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Sunday, July 4, 2021

Vinny Golia, John Hanrahan, Henry Kaiser, Wayne Peet, Mike Watt - A Love Supreme Electric: A Salvo Inspired by John Coltrane, A Love Supreme and Meditations (Cuneiform, 2020) *****

By Kenneth Blanchard

Some genres are defined in part by the wardrobes and props. If it’s hats, horses, and handguns, it’s a Western. If it’s guys in tuxedos playing stringed instruments, it’s what we call classical music. If the dress code is cool and/or casual, rather than formal, and there is at least one horn, it’s probably jazz. The shot of the band that came with A Love Supreme Electric appears to pin it down a bit more precisely. A guitar, bass, and organ all electrified point in the direction of jazz fusion. It’s more complicated than that.

Another difference between classical music and jazz turns on whether the artist and performance are subordinate to the composer and composition or vice versa. Classical fans scan reviews for the best new recording of Beethoven’s violin concerto. Jazz fans look for new recordings by Ken Vandermark.

Occasionally a jazz composition acquires something of the stature of a great symphony or concerto. John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme might be the example. A quick survey turned up twenty-five interpretations of Trane’s 1964 studio version, within a range that includes Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin (1972) and the David Murray Octet (2000). Drummer John Hanrahan writes the first set of liner notes for A Love Supreme Electric. He tells of a long relationship to the music and a sense of spiritual maturation.

This piece (if you’re open and ready to accept) will open your mind to a blissful place of our love and spirit. I’ve seen, heard, and felt it when this piece is performed. I truly had no idea what I was getting involved with.

Coltrane’s studio recording of ALS explicitly documents his religious experience at this point. It is also the definitive statement of his Great Quartet McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones. His Meditations, recorded not quite a year later, documents his leap into free jazz. It also stands as his last recording with the Quartet. Coltrane brought on a second tenor sax Pharoah Sanders and another drummer Rashied Ali. Flying with an unbalanced load into unexplored territory, Tyner, Garrison, and Jones had had enough.

ALSE covers both the four movements of Trane’s ALS and the compositions from Meditations. If that weren’t enough, it deploys an electric guitar and organ. These jazzmen are lacking neither courage nor imagination.

Their most interesting decision was to reengineer Trane’s ALS according to the blueprint of his Meditations. The former, as brilliant and inventive as it is, is well within the comfort zone of any hard bop fan. The first cut on the latter Father, Son, and Holy Ghost would scare a hard bop stalwart (as once I was) back into his mouse hole. Is it really a coincidence that Ayler’s seminal Spiritual Unity was recorded five months before ALS? The result of this reengineering is a much more edgy version of ALS, with a lot of genuinely free jazz, some of them stretched out, in every section.

If that were all there was to it, it would be a much less interesting document; however, two additional strategies enlarge and refine the final product. One was to anchor the more traditional mood of ALS in Vinny Golia’s saxophone. Even when he is trading licks with Henry Kaiser’s guitar, Golia keeps the marrow of bop narration healthy inside the bone of the music. I have always loved it when avant garde/free jazz compositions become kissing cousins with hard bop. Think of Anthony Braxton’s Six Monk’s Compositions and his Charlie Parker Project.

The third innovation was to present the electric instruments less in the style of jazz fusion and more in the style of sixties acid rock. Try to imagine Trane playing with Jimmy Hendrix at, where else, the Newport Jazz Festival. The third time the guitar went off my old earring hole popped open. This is most explicit in Kaiser’s guitar work, but also so in Wayne Peet’s organ.

Perhaps the most evident difference between ALS and ALSE is the lack of empty auditory space in the latter. Trane’s original leaves lots of room around the sound of each instrument, allowing for more definition. This recording frequently fills up all the available space. This might be my only criticism. I would have liked more passages like the beginning of track 8 'Consequences'. Horn, guitar, and bass drill down in parallel shafts.

This is an amazing album. If I only had one track to keep, it would be the last: 'Acknowledgement reprise'. It seems to tie the strengths of the project into a satisfying tapestry. When you get this and you are going to be sure to listen to the Coltrane originals first. Then fasten your seat belts.


Stef said...

Hi Kenneth, thanks for a thoughtful review. Last year, I listened to this album with interest until I heard Henry Kaiser's fusion guitar destroy the whole concept of A Love Supreme. I think his guitar playing was acceptable on other "tribute" albums like on his Yo, Miles! band with Wadada Leo Smith, because this macho sound is more compatible with Miles' musical concept, but less so in Coltrane's. Either Kaiser does not understand Coltrane's music, or if he does, he can't capture it in his playing. It becomes a fusion rendition of Coltrane. I'm not sure who was waiting for that. As usual musical appreciation is very subjective.

Paul said...

Totally and fascinatingly subjective. I have been enjoying this one quite a bit, and tend towards Kenneth's appreciation of the recording. In the liner notes Kaiser discusses how the 'Yo Miles!' work informed the re-casting of this piece, approaching it as a 'what if' Coltrane had lived and embraced electric music like Miles had. I'm also a sucker for some classic fusion from time to time!

Stuart Broomer said...

We're diverging all over the place here. I don't usually like much fusion at all and hold most Coltrane covers in contempt, considering Branford Marsalis's A Love Supreme second in odiousness only to his brother's cornball big band version. Meditations has been one of my favorite records (of any artist) since i bought a copy in the Detroit Artists Workshop in 1966, but I was genuinely moved by Kaiser's playing here: from a longer review covering several Kaiser recordings available online in the March 2021 edition of New York CIty Jazz Record:

...Those suites represent both Coltrane’s most widely acknowledged masterpiece and a key work in his final tumultuous music, in large part owing to Pharoah Sanders’ presence on the first released version of Meditations. Like Rova’s Electric Ascension, this 66-minute suite seeks its own ground amidst Coltrane’s most intense work, but it also hews to a complex sequence of distinct thematic structures. There are infernal and celestial energies set loose, and the band never makes the common mistake of trying to tame Coltrane’s music.
It’s the combination of Golia and Kaiser that makes this so powerful. Golia approaches this music with his own sound, a battery of saxophones and an approach that owes at least as much to Sanders as Coltrane. Interestingly, so does Kaiser. When the two reach “Joy” (a movement included on Coltrane’s earlier quartet recording but not the first released sextet one), Kaiser finds extraordinary guitar sounds, his wavering sustained tones resembling a shakuhachi that will then break to an overdriven electric guitar sound. Kaiser often adds the kind of sonic mayhem to the music that Sanders provided, combining his intense chameleonic sounds with Golia’s to create the illusion of two saxophones as they pass through and over the sheer heft and complexity of organ, bass and drums. The presence of organ and electric bass adds another distinctive quality: it’s both brighter and funkier than Coltrane’s band (that Hammond a soul jazz signature), adding a different social dimension while pressing toward the music’s exalted and elegiac power. This is a profound exploration of a key moment in jazz history.>>

Stef said...

I guess that's indeed all about subjective appreciation of sound. Maybe I'm too conditioned by all those fusion guitarists screaming their strings off to say "look what I can, hear me, see how good I am", sucking the attention to their pyrotechnics instead of to the music itself (music is just an alibi for circus tricks). Coltrane's sound is full of spiritual transcendence, lifting the quality of music to a higher plane, far more expansive than so much more music before him. I have the impression that Kaiser reduces Coltrane, diminishing his music, bringing him back to a more domestic, down to earth, boxed-in fusion idiom. With Coltrane's Ascension, ROVA did respect Coltrane's vision, electrifying his sound, but respectfully, cherishing his music instead of instrumental prowess. There is no real way to give a rational justification for this. As much as Kaiser's guitar sound works for Miles (in my opinion), I find it a complete mismatch to Coltrane's music.

Stuart Broomer said...

This is subjective and it might have something to do with specific context. I was prepared to dislike the electric Trane, holding Meditations pretty much sacred (moreso than ALS), but I heard it in a specific context. I was writing a batch review of recordings by Kaiser and I was working through them individually. The previous ones were In the Arctic Dreamtime by Ivar Grydeland and Henry Kaiser (Rune Grammofon), just reviewed by Paul on FJB, and
Secret Handshake with Danger, Vol. One by the free improvising/fusion oriented band of
Olie Brice, Binker Golding, Henry Kaiser, N.O. Moore and Eddie Prévost on 577 Records. Both of these stretch electronic guitar far afield, "Arctic Dreamtime", a film soundtrack for a 1920s film by an arctic exlorer that expands from Kaiser's own Antarctic underwater diving soundtrack work for Werner Herzog and "Secret Handshake" in part marked by dialogue between Kaiser and N.O. Moore, a similarly brilliant electronic guitarist whose work is largely in the realm of free improvisation rather than fusion. I think those Kaiser projects are continuous with ALSE and similar to ROVA's Ascension as a project that explores COltrane's premises rather than violating, mimicking or simplfying them.

Anonymous said...

I've always loved edgy, experimental, and far out guitar playing and some music that could be labeled as "fusion" delivered with enough vision and grit (which I associtae with the explaratory early fusion recordings from the late 60s and early 70s) can definitely work and be very enjoyable. Having said that I share Stef's sentiment here. To me this album is great to listen to apart from Kaiser's solos which I found grating and over the top. He still can produce interesting sounds on his instrument, but the way he delivers them just didn't sit well with me.

Colin Green said...

Having now listened to this album, I’m slightly puzzled about the claims over Kaiser’s “fusion” guitar. It doesn’t sound like fusion to me, and certainly not of the kind described by Stef: unnecessary pyrotechnics and mere showmanship. It’s a style (unfortunate word) of electric guitar playing encompassing loose and gritty swathes of sound that’s used frequently within free jazz, going back at least to Terje Rypdal and Sonny Sharrock, and In the context of the music - particularly the sound of Golia’s saxophone - it strikes me as working well and nicely integrated. I enjoyed the album and felt no discrepancy.

Lee said...

I'll have to give this another listen, around the time it came out I didn't have much free time to spend with it. I did enjoy it, overall, and I love Golia.

Stef said...

Hi Colin, we can discuss this at length and in the end it all comes down to personal appreciation. I think the sound of Rypdal would have been a better match in terms of guitar sound (but then preferably less icey). And I agree with Lee, I love the sax playing of Golia on this album too. So all, please enjoy if you like this. I just wanted to add my personal reaction.

Anonymous said...

It sounds to me like Kaiser is play exactly in several traditions at once here:
1) Pete Cosey (most of all)
2) Sonny Sharrock
3) Terje Rypdal
4) + Pharoah on MEDITATIONS, translated to electric guitar (remember at the time of MEDITATIONS release, many critical writers complained that Pharoah sounded like someone killing a chicken...)

Does not sound like fusion guitar or rock guitar to me - but more the 50 years in standing, free jazz electric guitar tradition;
a contemporary and enchanting evolutionary fusion of those four root-lines above.

Colin Green said...

Stef, I’d hoped it was obvious that my initial observation wasn’t to do with personal appreciation - obviously, whether one likes Kaiser’s contribution is a matter of taste, and tastes legitimately differ. It was the genealogy I questioned; his playing just doesn’t sound much like the kind of fusion you described. Indeed, as someone has pointed out, it’s more akin to Pharaoh Sanders during his time with Coltrane (but better).