Thursday, April 22, 2010

John Coltrane: OM

John Coltrane (saxophone)
OM (Impulse)

Derided by many as a wall of noise, OM (Impulse) just happens to be one of my favourite John Coltrane records. This also happens to be the very first Coltrane album I ever heard. I can't remember how old I was but I do remember raking the leaves the in the backyard and hearing a cacophony of noise coming from my neighbors yard two house down. I went down to find out what this strange beauty noise was and I was entranced with John Coltrane ever since.

OM was released in 1965, at time when many of best musicians in jazz were experimenting with what was now known as Free Jazz. For me, essentially OM is one long spiritual journey in the framework of the Divine Comedy. In this case, Coltrane (as Dante) travels through the chaotic frenzy that is hell, through the ambivalence of purgatory and then ending in the enlightenment of heaven.

OM begins with all guns blazing as Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders exchange counterpoints on saxophone while Elvin Jones (drums) Jimmy Garrison and Donald Garrett (bass), Joe Brazil (flute) and McCoy Tyner (piano) keep some semblance of rhythm deep in the background. This is a session which is completely unlike its predecessors, Ascension (Impulse), Kulu Se Mama (Impulse) and the landmark A Love Supreme (Impulse). While each of those albums contain a specific theme and balance within beauty OM seems like some kind of catharsis for the band.

OM is heavy, dense and aggressive throughout but as you reach the conclusion you finally feel you've reached that nirvana that Coltrane was constantly seeking throughout his recordings on Impulse. It's definitely and I mean definitely not for everyone. This is one long piece (almost 30 minutes) but if you can handle the aural assault on the senses you will genuinely be rewarded at the end. OM is a difficult record created by one the most innovative musicians in music history along with the albums that proceeded it all have become a benchmark for avant garde artist of this current generation. An album worth the experience. Even if its just one listen.

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