Originally published in Arthur No. 35 (Aug 2013)…
Artwork by BEAVER. Top: ASTRAL PLANE (L to R): Pharoah Sanders, Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones, John Coltrane, Donald Garrett, McCoy Tyner. Bottom: MATERIAL PLANE (L to R): Sanders, Garrison, Garrett, Jones, Tyner, Coltrane.
by STEWART VOEGTLIN
A Love Supreme Recorded Dec ‘64/released ‘65
The John Coltrane Quartet Plays Recorded Feb 65/May 65/March 65 released ’65
Transition Recorded May/June ‘65 released ‘70
Kulu Sé Mama (+Sanders, Garrett, Butler, Lewis) Recorded June 10-16/65 released ‘67
Ascension Recorded June 28/65 released ‘66
Sun Ship Recorded August ‘65 released ‘71
First Meditations Recorded Sept 2/65 released ‘77
Live in Seattle (+Sanders; Garrett) Recorded Sept 30/65/released ‘71
Om (+Sanders; Brazil) Recorded October ‘65 /released 68
Meditations (+Sanders; Ali) Recorded Nov 65/released 66
Interstellar Space Recorded Feb. ‘67/released ‘74
Expression (Sanders, Ali, Alice Coltrane) Recorded Feb. ‘67 & March ‘67/released ‘67
Forty-eight years ago the classic John Coltrane Quartet—along with tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, and multi-instrumentalist Don Garrett—played a gig at a small Seattle club called the Penthouse. The show—130 minutes, professionally recorded, released later as Live in Seattle—came three months after the release of Coltrane’s monumental Ascension, two months before the leader’s penultimate farewell, Meditations. Standards and originals are played. Ponderous intros are atomized by ecstatic solos. Notes dissolve into noise. Noise dissolves into pure sound. Themes struggle within a framework so volatile it shares more likeness with a riot than music. Whether you choose to believe rumors the players gobbled up LSD before hitting the stage doesn’t change opinion turned fact: this quartet could summon chaos like no other. That night in Seattle, Coltrane & Co. ground away at reality and its tyranny of time until any semblance of form surrendered to the void.
Live in Seattle didn’t arrive at a pivotal moment. It was the pivotal moment. Coltrane had undergone a sort of gale force ideation; let himself go to creativity. He behaved more like a speedfreak archivist at the time than leader of the world’s most cataclysmic quartet. Recorded incessantly. In studio. Remotely. Pecked away at graphic scores. Scribbled down ideas. Gave sparse but impassioned instruction to players en route to studio or gig, establishing structure in the moment, assembling by chance, intuition, power. Live in Seattle was the final push towards the symbolic rebirth Coltrane had begun working towards with A Love Supreme in 1964. It’s Coltrane himself in an almost monastic light, striving for purity, elation, elegance, exaltation. His breath and its vehicle not of this earth, but of something we know not what. A Love Supreme is the undeniably practiced and ceremonial unification of the quartet. Live in Seattle its mindful and unceremonious dissolution. It’s the sound of the classic quartet coming completely apart at its core.
That night in Seattle the rhythm section either bashed away in protest, or stood agitatedly indifferent to Coltrane and Sanders, their horns a screaming phoenix struggling to get off ground with the weight of the universe in its talons. Bassist Jimmy Garrison, pianist McCoy Tyner, and drummer Elvin Jones surely tear through the set. But only Garrison sounds truly sympathetic, willfully adapting to Coltrane’s vision still in transition, shelving simple bass walks in lieu of strumming, plucking, coloring what sounds at times like blood ritual with strange flamenco and orchestral figures. Tyner alternately stomps and sprints up the keys, pointlessly competing with Jones who switches between raucous swing and athletic white noise. Ingredients are there. Forces in opposition. Each player pulling the music into a place he’s more comfortable with. Had it been a rock band it would’ve been salted with operatic whining and ego-oriented arguments that served no true end. All the quartet was doing was shaping its new sound. Crafting aesthetic. Loudly becoming. Here, within Live in Seattle, lies the set of directions for that sound, more cosmogony than loose aggregate of aped trope.