Monday, May 23, 2011

John Coltrane Quartet - Africa/Brass

Africa/Brass is the first John Coltrane record I ever bought. It thoroughly perplexed me.

I was maybe 15 or 16 and way into the Grateful Dead. I read an interview with the band's bass player, Phil Lesh, where he spoke about how he turned his band mates onto Coltrane, specifically via Africa/Brass. I came to learn over the years that the band was incredibly impacted and influenced by Coltrane's early '60s work (there is an excellent breakdown of this here) and that happenstance introduction started me on my exploration.

I was not entirely unfamiliar with or ignorant about jazz at the time, but I had a very, very superficial exposure. I can't even recall what I may have been aware of at the time but there was certainly nothing like Africa/Brass in my consciousness.

What I initially picked up was a cassette tape. This was the mid-80s and if I recall correctly, none of the Impulse! stuff was in print any longer, certainly not on CD. If it was available I wasn't stumbling across it...anyway, I purchased said used cassette and was eager to see what mind-boggling music could have possibly so motivated my musical heroes.

I wish I could say that I was immediately drawn in and absorbed by the music, but that was not the case. The music was incredibly dense to my ears, not at all what I thought "jazzy" should be. Even "Blues Minor", the most bop-like track on the record, was left-of-center for me. Quite frankly, I was confused. Not put off, but thoroughly confused.

I kept that cassette tape for years. As my interest in and knowledge of music grew I would revisit Africa/Brass. I wish I could recall when I finally "got it" but it probably did not take as long as my memory implies. By the early 90s Coltrane was already a familiar reference point to me and had prepared me for some of my favorite records, such as Sonny Sharrock's Ask The Ages and McCoy Tyner's Fly With The Wind.

Those endless hours of Frank Zappa, the Grateful Dead and various heavy prog rock records did a great job of teaching me how to listen to and appreciate this other world of music. I love it all.

Listen to Africa/Brass on MOG.

John Coltrane Quartet - The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions
disc one | disc two