Saturday, July 17, 2010

July 17: John Coltrane, "Acknowledgment"

Artist: John Coltrane
Song: "Acknowledgment"
Album: A Love Supreme
Year: 1964

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There are a handful of artists, the most highly respected and most revered in all of music history, that even if you have not heard their music, their name alone is able to command such a status.  In some cases, that single name completely defines a musical style, a way of approaching an instrument, or even an entire generation, both in and out of music.  It is these once-in-a-lifetime individuals who have shaped modern music into its current form, and there are only a few other names that are even remotely worth of being mentioned in the same breath as the one and only John Coltrane.  Unquestionably the most influential saxophone player in the entire history of recorded music, Coltrane routinely pushed the envelope on what could be done within jazz music, and it was he who developed new approaches to composition and playing styles.  From his innovations in tonal changes to his unique use of harmonics, Coltrane reshaped the jazz world to such an extent that those who copy these techniques now refer to the multi-tonic changes he first presented as "Coltrane changes."  Whether he was playing alongside Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, or Johnny Hartman, Coltrane never failed to shine brightest, and after a number of stellar albums as a solo artist, all of his work and innovation finally came together on a single album.  Standing today as one of the most important jazz recordings in history, few records can compare to 1964's A Love Supreme, and the power and brilliance of the album can be summed up within the first section of the recording, John Coltrane's brilliant composition, "Acknowledgment."

By the time Coltrane entered the studio to record A Love Supreme, he had been through a number of changes to his backing lineup, and the group with which he recorded this record and a number of others is considered today to be his "classic quartet."  The chemistry between the four players is clear throughout all of "Acknowledgment," and each player is given ample time to show off their talents, yet the focus rarely leaves Coltrane's horn.  After a brief opening solo from Coltrane, the song is set into motion by double-bassist Jimmy Garrison pounding out the catchy, almost mesmerizing core phrasing of the song a few times before the rest of the group joins into the music.  Drummer Elvin Jones then drops in with the mid-tempo shuffle that runs the course of the song.  Within his playing, one can hear a wide range of influences, as there are moments where he is playing "bop" style fills, as well as Latin sounds and more "cool" jazz style rhythms.  This diversity in the underlying beat enables "Acknowledgment" to take on a personal unlike any other ever recorded.  Playing a superb contrast and compliment to Coltrane, the performance of pianist McCoy Tyner on this song stands as perhaps his finest musical achievement, as he weaves in, out, and around Coltrane's horn.  It is the way in which the four musicians build off of and play off of one another that shows how "together" they were as a group, and few bands since have shown to be as impressive an overall group as one finds on "Acknowledgment."

Yet even with the three backing musicians giving top-notch performances, there is never any question that the 'star" of the entire album is John Coltrane.  It is Coltrane that pushes the intense and somehow subtle musical phrases, and while at times it seems as if he is "flying off" with his solos, upon closer inspection, he is more likely trying to push his band-mates to greater heights.  Exploring every inch of his composition, Coltrane takes countless musical lines that seem impossible to derive from the key phrase, and yet the fact that each and every one "works" serves as a testament to the true brilliance behind the man.  Throughout "Acknowledgment," Coltrane seems to try and make the band try and "catch" him as he spins away from the core musical phrase, and this creates a unique "tension and release" formation that is not found elsewhere in a similar manner.  Truth be told, there are points on "Acknowledgment" where the band gets so funky, so spacey, that it becomes oddly reminiscent of the music of Sun Ra, and this adds yet another layer to how talented a composer and band leader lived within John Coltrane.  It is this almost strange combination of emotionally free, yet completely musically logical solos and progressions that make "Acknowledgment" so stunning to experience, and also why it remains in the ears of many to be Coltrane's finest moment.

While Coltrane's "classic quartet" burns across "Acknowledgment" in an unprecedented manner, it is largely the interplay between he and Tyner that make the song so significant.  Tyner clearly plays an ideal foil to Coltrane's sound, as he seems to "push back" at Coltrane at every turn, and Tyner also pushes the song into different musical keys and choral progressions almost "daring" Coltrane to try and follow his lead.  It is this musical sparring of sorts that creates some of the most stunning moments on "Acknowledgment," and it also shows that Coltrane was far more in favor of having musicians that could keep up with him, if not best him from time to time, than simply having them serve the more traditional "backing musician" role.  All three of his band-mates are in rare form on "Acknowledgment," and it is on this track that the rhythm section of Garrison and Jones make their case as the most talented section in music history.  From the deep, funky groove that opens the song to the shuffles and "runs" found later on "Acknowledgment," the duo seamlessly move from one style to another, changing the tempo and overall mood in an unprecedented manner.  Over all of these amazing musical achievements, "Acknowledgment" boasts some of John Coltrane's most beautiful and daring musical explorations, and it is moments such as those found throughout this track that make him the legend that he remains to this day.  Though it is truly impossible to find a "bad" track from John Coltrane, few of his other works can compare to the stunning musical beauty and long-lasting impact of his 1964 masterpiece, A Love Supreme, and more specifically its opening section, "Acknowledgment."

1 comment:

patrick said...

What a fantastic record. Landmark! Great "Aknowledgement" of its genius.