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coverpic flag US - Pennsylvania - Full Moon 62 - 11/01/01

John Coltrane
The Olatunji Concert: The Last Live Recording

Jazz. You can guarantee that any twenty-something music fan, avid enough to include disparate genres in their record collection, has gone through, or will go through, a 'jazz phase'. Eager to dip into this enormous pool of hipster sounds, I've tried Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman. And now John Coltrane.

The problem with dabbling in jazz is knowing exactly where to gamble your hard-earned record-buying cash. Sometimes it pays off: Bitches Brew by Davis and The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady by Mingus are two of my favourite jazz records, and for me transcend their genre to simply stand as great albums. But there's nothing worse than foregoing the purchase of something you're pretty sure you'll like, to try something new that turns out either to be a crock of shit or just not to your taste. Or both. But real music fans are always eager to hear new things that are moving and exciting, right? Right.

My first impression of The Olantunji Concert was of a cacophanous, terrifying blitzkrieg. It pretty much gave me a headache. The saxes scream like a herd of tortured elephants, the drums fall over each other, and the rest of the instruments are barely audible in the mix, except for the bass intro to My Favourite Things that spanks on for nearly ten minutes. This is not easy listening. The two tracks are each around half an hour long, and the mix is pretty shoddy at times. As a something of a virgin to this free jazz thing, I was lost in sound. And what a racket.

But wait - stand back a second. This was Coltrane's penultimate live performance, and the last recorded, before he died of cancer in late 1967. Coltrane is blowing his heart out. In this context it's difficult not to be moved by this complex, disturbing sound.

On further listens you begin to hear the record as more than just a terrified cry of a man who knows he could die at any time. No doubt countless jazz aficionados will deem this a classic - the final word from a jazz god. But I believe it's essential to hear it as more than that, to accept it outside the circle of purists. It deserves more than just being acknowledged as a jazz milestone. It should be heard. It's a tremendously life affirming record, sizzling with passion and joy, aching with pain and regret. And, to my ears, it sounds a bit like Mogwai at their most ferocious.

A demanding album, sure, but one which rewards anything you can bring to it. Coltrane gave his life to his music; give him an hour and he'll win you over.

Copyright © 2001 Tim Clarke e-mail address

You may also want to check out our John Coltrane article/review: A Love Supreme.

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