Selection: Side 1 (18:40)
Freddie Hubbard, Dewey Johnson (tp) Marion Brown, John Tchicai (as) John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp (ts) McCoy Tyner (p) Art Davis, Jimmy Garrison (b) Elvin Jones (d) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, June 28, 1965
A lot of on-line reviewers have written serious stuff in praise of Ascension. Sample:
“…..It is a masterpiece and one of the greatest albums ever written. It is intense, fiery, bombastic, puzzling, rich, epic, heavenly”…..”An awesome, inspiring, challenging, involving, beautiful and emotionally draining piece”…..”deserves 5 stars for its sheer daring and courage in challenging virtually every idiom associated with jazz”…..”The fainthearted and prudish should stay away”…. “probably not a wise choice for the novice listener and those with childlike attention spans”….
Some elements of elitism in those comments. I have tried to sort my own thoughts, taking into account Coltraneologists musings, and am going to give you a chance to have your say and finish with a poll.
The most obvious antecedent is Ornette Coleman’s “double quartet” Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation, which – like Ascension – is a continuous forty-minute performance with ensemble passages and without breaks. On Ascension and unlike on Free Jazz, the group ensembles alternate with solos, which take up about equal time, so it has more overriding structure. Ascension has a much more expanded “front line” with seven brass players. Coltrane is leader/producer of the ensemble and soloists, providing a veritable stimulus package for the employment of younger members of the New York avant-garde.
Ascension is considered to be Coltrane’s watershed album, a move away from the hard bop quartet formula, and decisively in the direction of free jazz. In a radio interview Coltrane modestly described it as a “big band thing”, though it is not like any big band recording made before. Dave Liebman called the album the torch that lit the free jazz thing. Coltrane apparently gave the musicians no directions for their solos, besides that they were to end with a crescendo.The large group is pretty relentless: segments are often discordant and abrasive, though some of these segue into more blues-based solos.
Ascension is clearly a significant record, of serious musical intent. At around 40 minutes it can be a difficult listen, not necessarily something you would pop on the turntable as background when the family drop round for Christmas drinks. It is fairly intense. A skim of Amazon reviews quickly establishes that its enthusiasts claim the higher ground: “it will appeal to the adventurous and open-minded.” Like you wouldn’t want to be thought of as unadventurous and possessed of a closed-mind, would you? No pressure there from the Free Jazz Illuminati who make up the majority of review writers.
To Coltraneologists: some exam questions
Lets get this one out the way first. Is this recording an indigestible cacophony of anarchy in brass and bass, or the artistic culmination of a man’s desire to explore the outer reaches of tonality and the inner limits of freedom? (Do not attempt to write on both sides of the paper at the same time)
Second, does the difference between Edition I and II really make the difference between liking and not liking the work? How is one preferable? (I believe the
CD evil silver disk holds both editions)
Third, what are the merits of stereo vs mono here? Which should one go for? I believe Ornette’s Free Jazz is definitely a stereo thing. Here I am not so sure.
Fourth, what if you said you disagreed with Coltrane’s supposed preference of the edition, or worse, don’t like either edition, incurring the wrath of the Free Jazz Illuminati. Is Coltrane, as some people believe, the musician who can do no wrong?
Last: is it necessary to answer all these questions, LJC?
Yes Most definitely. OK, time’s up, hand in your papers.
An LJC Poll
Simple question, straight answer, it is anonymous, no-one will tell the Free Jazz Illuminati how you voted. Lets see what the numbers say about Coltrane’s Ascension, the wisdom of crowds.You all have one vote, no repeats, so vote wisely.
Vinyl – Impulse A -95 Edition I, pressing with serrated edge!!! I’d love to know definitively which plant pressed these serrated edge records, it’s my third.
Two recordings of “Ascension” exist, called Edition I and Edition II. Edition I is contrarily the second take, released on Impulse in February 1966 (catalogue number A-95) Edition II is the first take and allegedly Coltrane’s preferred version (also released as A-95 some months after the original release, with “EDITION II” etched on the vinyl run-out circle).
- Edition I “Ascension” (John Coltrane) – 38:30
- Edition II “Ascension” (Coltrane) – 40:49
Order of soloists and ensembles
The solo orders differ slightly between the takes and Edition II features no drum solo by Elvin Jones.
Impulse 1st pressing 100% genuine with Van gelder machine stamped matrix and A95 A and A95 B matrix numbers making this the rare edition 1 press. Catologue Number:A-95-A/B . Vinyl graded visually under a mega strong light that picks up any marks: Solid Near mint one side and Excellent+ the other side when examined under a strong light just a couple of fine hairlines a beautiful copy. Front cover: little bit of discolouring. Spine:Near Mint, Back Cover: Same as front cover with just a small spine nick its very small see picture. Inside gatefold is Excellent as well . Top right corner edge has a small bump as well.
The seller notes its Edition 1 status, but doesn’t remark Coltrane supposedly preferred Edition II. Still, apparently Edition I is “rare”, so that’s alright then.
On first hearing I didn’t much take to Ascension. Who knows how I will feel about it after repeated listening, but it rather confirmed my earlier reactions, that later Coltrane is not for me. But I keep an open mind, and am comfortable to have it in my collection. I aim to include some records which I don’t yet like, or may never like. LJC is a forum for divergent opinions; I can learn too.
Comments are open, the floor is yours.