Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

John Coltrane
Impressions


Released 1963 on Impulse
Reviewed by Dog 3000, 06/10/2003ce


1 India (13:52)
2 Up 'Gainst The Wall (3:12)
3 Impressions (14:40)
4 After The Rain (4:07)

The Quartet:
John Coltrane: tenor sax (except soprano sax on India)
McCoy Tyner: piano (except Wall)
Elvin Jones: drums (except Rain)
Jimmy Garrison: bass

Plus:
Eric Dolphy: bass clarinet (on India only)
Reggie Workman: bass (on India only)
Roy Haynes: drums (on Rain only)


It is my belief that this album, along with Trane's 1964 "A Love Supreme", must have been some sort of secret Head totems in the earlier 60's. Before there was psychedelia there was "free jazz" which seems the obvious forebearer of the later style of improvisational instrumentation: indefinitely long solos, borrowing musical concepts from "eastern" cultures, modal jamming, polyrhythms, smoking reefer to help you get "out there", pretty much everything that is "psychedelic" except for the amplifiers and the feedback came from jazz.

So it should be no surprise that there are plenty of signs that the "inventors" of psychedelia were nothing but jazz heads with amplifiers, and even more specifically Trane Heads. Some examples: 1) the modal jam section in the Door's "Light My Fire" is based on the modal jam that is Trane's version of "My Favorite Things." 2) Roger McGuinn's lead lines on the Byrds' "Eight Miles High" are an attempt to translate Trane's sax riffs to the guitar (which McGuinn himself is quick to admit.) 3) Jefferson Airplane's "rejoyce" lifts it's horn vamp straight from Trane's "Africa." 4) And then there's the photo collage on the cover sleeve to the MC5's 1968 "Looking At You" single where the recently deceased Trane glowers down on the boys from his perch in Heaven.

A good 5 years before George Harrison picked up a sitar, Coltrane was performing a tune called "India" which features both modal raga-isms borrowed from Indian music as well as jazz tone-poetry that conjures up imagery of the subcontinent (in particular the lazy, swaying chorus riff played by Trane and Eric Dolphy.) The soprano saxophone which Trane plays on this tune has a much higer pitch than his usual tenor, creating a sound that recalls eastern instruments like the shinai; Dolphy's unusual choice of bass clarinet produces a similarly exotic effect. The burbling from two basses and Elvin Jones' polyrhythmic approach to drumming underscore the imagery -- bustling crowds, cars & bicyles weaving around cows roaming the streets, old traditions bumping up against modernity. All the more impressive because this track was recorded live (from his legendary gigs at the Village Vanguard in 1961 -- there's a whole box set of that material out there.)

The other extended piece was also recorded live at the Vanguard in 1961. "Impressions" is basically a jam on the riff from Miles Davis' "So What", only played twice as long and three times as fast with Trane soloing in overdrive the whole time. Perhaps even more than "India", this performance is a real "trip" that suspends time and space. Words really can't describe what he's playing here, because the music coming out of the horn produces a language all its own. It speaks to you on a pre-verbal subconscious level. It takes you "out there" and inside of yourself at the same time.

The other two tracks included on this album are also good. "Up 'Gainst The Wall" (studio recording from '62) is technically a blues, though it sounds like a raga as much as anything. The piano player sits out so Trane can fly free from any harmonic straightjacket.

The final track "After The Rain" (studio recording from '63, with Roy Haynes in for Jones because he was in jail on drug charges at the time) is one of those gorgeous little ballads Trane wrote periodically ("Naima" being his most famous.) With it's gentle cymbal washes, tinkling raindrop piano clusters and melancholy yet soaring melody it does indeed capture the mood of walking the city streets at night after a rain storm. Or maybe it's a rain storm of the heart.

I know some of y'all rocker kiddies "don't like jazz", but if yer a HEAD who's serious about yer HERITAGE, you should look into the roots of where all this psych-ay-delick-nis comes from in the first place. This album would be an excellent place to start that exploration.


(Recent CD reissues of "Impressions" also include a bonus track: a previously unreleased version of "Dear Old Stockholm" from the same era.)


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