Artwork: Coltrane Mediates by Floyd Web
Coltrane & Co. at The Plugged Nickel. by J.B. Figi
John Coltrane – tenor & soprano
Pharoah Sanders – tenor & flute
Alice Coltrane – piano
Jimmy Garrison – bass
Jack DeJohnette – drums
Rashid Ali – drums
March 2-6, 1966
Coltrane’s week here confirmed ASCENSION, made it clear that John intends to extend himself into a spasm of “mystic” experience. Which explains the music, and why he is digging into soul and pocket to enlist the young lions, aligning their powers with his.
Wednesday night sounded as though giant hands were breaking open the earth, great sounds and chunks of things coming loose. John was blowing against a wall which tottered but wouldn’t fall, then backing off into the stomach-lurching roller coaster of his more familiar style. Two drummers are pertinent to the music, functioning in a way comparable to a guitar team; while DeJohnette played “rhythm”, Rashid wove “melody”, a steady pattern of rhythmic filigree similar to the flying carpet Ed Blackwell spreads. But the most urgent voice of the night was Pharoah Sanders, toes plugged into some personal wall-socket, screaming squealing honking, exploding echoes of encouragement among the audience. Pharoah was a mad wind screeching through the root-cellars of Hell.
Friday night. How do you review a cataclysm? evaluate an earthquake? An apocalyptic juggernaut that rolled across an allusion to My Favorite Things into a soundtrack from an old Sabu movie – jungle-fire, animals rampaging in panic, trumpeting of bull elephants? You can only describe with impressions saved from the storm. DeJohnette walking away blanched and shaken from the demands of the music. Mrs. Coltrane sitting sedately by, occasionally edging in with comment. Garrison plugging away, helping hold things together. Pharoah a mongoose shaking a snake. Roscoe Mitchell, sitting in on alto for the night, breaking loose with lashes of short-range lightning, some of the most exciting playing to come out of the mass. Saxophonists reaching for tambourine, claves, beaters, etc. whenever resting the horn. Rashid coming through undaunted near the end with a fresh new drum-dance. A locomotive of horns, Pharoah-Trane-Roscoe in a row blowing at once, spinning wheels, throwing cinders. Roscoe becoming “possessed” with revival-frenzy. And the big punch of Coltrane, somehow keeping his head in the melee, breaking through time after time with groaning lyricism. Like a convulsion they had induced but no longer seemed able to control, it ground on and on, beyond expected limits of endurance, past two hours, past closing time, until the management intervened and closed it down.