December 21, 2005
THE 'TRANE HAS LEFT THE STATION:
Jazz Gem Made in '57 Is a Favorite of 2005 (BEN RATLIFF, 12/21/05, NY Times)
My favorite jazz record released this year, and one of my favorites of any year, was made in 1957. I first heard "Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall" (Blue Note) at the Library of Congress in April, after the news of its discovery had been made public. It sounded pretty good then, but you can never really tell when hearing something over a high-quality sound system in front of interested parties. I have listened to it repeatedly since, and it seems to be much better than I first thought - solid, juicy, truly great.
Another of the year's new jazz records - John Coltrane's "One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note" (Impulse) - was made in 1965. It disqualifies itself from consideration for my list of the year's best jazz albums only because it has been heard, in bits and pieces, on illegal tapes for 40 years. (I got mine from a great saxophonist who wanted to spread the word.) But it is also, I think, a masterpiece.
There's a reason why these records stand out as the year's best, and I get the sense that many people feel they know that reason.
They believe, or have heard, that jazz crinkled up and collapsed after Coltrane. That the musicians have defaulted on audiences, going deep into their own heads instead. That there's been no successor, because Coltrane broke the mold, threw away the key, set the bar too high, stretched the envelope as far as it would go, established a holding pattern, and other truth-obscuring clichés.
It would simplify things, but no. In fact, I don't think the reason has much to do with Coltrane per se - other than the obvious fact that he made superior music. (He did create a few stock models in jazz that persisted for an impressively long period after his death, but that's a different matter.)
These are among the year's great albums because they are high-quality proofs of one of jazz's basic properties: the possibility for transcendence on the gig, for a great band to be even better. This is true in any kind of music, but it is much more true in jazz.
Posted by Orrin Judd at December 21, 2005 12:00 AM