Saturday, August 2, 2008

From Brahms to Coltrane

Having completed my "ascent of Mount Brahms" by way of the Brilliant Classics' collection of the complete works of Johannes Brahms, I find that my listening habits have now led me to the Complete Impulse! Studio Recordings of the "Classic Quartet" of John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones. I do not find this shift in gears to be either eccentric or idiosyncratic. I have already written about the extent to which Coltrane's capacity for improvisation reflects all the way back to the talents of Johann Sebastian Bach; and, in the context of those who continue to look for the "progressive" in Brahms, I continue to write about the ways in which one may identify a relationship between Ives and Brahms. Certainly Ives was more inclined to melt the wax in your ears than Brahms ever was; and that alone enabled him to prepare us to listen to Coltrane, even if Coltrane himself seems to have had no exposure to Ives' music. Ultimately, however, the real lesson is how the very concept of "progressive" must, itself, "progress" with the passing of time; and, if the progressivism of Bach, Brahms, and Ives has informed our ability to listen to Coltrane, that ability now informs our listening to the extended explorations of the likes of Cecil Taylor.

In the midst of all that progressivism, however, I was reminded that one of the movements of Coltrane's Meditations was entitled "Consequences," one of the most heavily used labels on this blog. As we know from Lewis Porter's biography, there was no shortage of demons that Coltrane had to confront during his life; and most of those confrontations led to consequences. When Coltrane found that a personal sense of faith could inform his own approach to composition as much as it had informed Bach's, the music itself became more personal. Thus, the movements of Meditations are very much personal spiritual reflections on their "topics," such as love, compassion, joy, and consequences. Whether or not listening to Coltrane can help us to be more mindful of the consequences of our own actions is highly debatable, but I do not think that Coltrane wanted to be perceived as a teacher in such matters. Rather, he chose to bare his soul to us, allowing us to "meditate" on its many facets; and, in so doing, each listener might then be in a better position to so meditate on his own soul. Thus, since I continue to argue that this is a time when we should all be thinking more about consequences, we all might get something out of listening to more Coltrane!

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