John Coltrane was booted from legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis’ band in the late 1950s due to his escalating alcohol and heroin addictions. A Love Supreme, recorded in 1964 and released the following year, found Coltrane, who plays tenor saxophone throughout, casting out his troubles and confessing a then-newfound devotion to God.
The album is broken up into four songs–“Acknowledgement,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance” and “Psalm”–over thirty-odd minutes, just a fraction of the time Coltrane’s quartet was used to performing. Rounded out by McCoy Tyner on piano, Elvin Jones on drums and Jimmy Garrison on bass, Coltrane here seems his most fluid and poised. His solos are compact–to the point and poignant; “A Love Supreme,” the album’s sometimes-sung-sometimes-played refrain, hits even harder.
A Love Supreme was a smash when it was first released, garnering two Grammy nominations and selling a slew of copies, and its stature has only grown since Coltrane’s death in 1967. It’s heralded as not only one of the greatest jazz albums of all time, but one of the best–period. Like a hug from a grandparent or your favorite mantra, its warmth and constancy seem (and may very well be) never-ending.
Steven Ellison–AKA Flying Lotus–is the grandnephew of jazz pianist Alice Coltrane and the aforementioned John Coltrane. Though he’s been making electronic-based music for a decade now, it wasn’t until Ellison’s last two releases that he began deliberately delving into jazz for his compositions.
I’m glad he did. Because although Flying Lotus’ music has always been stimulating, You’re Dead! takes his tunes to another level entirely. Throughout 19 tracks in a blistering 38 minutes, Ellison balances hip-hop and jazz influences in equal measure; rappers Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg make appearances, as do pianist Herbie Hancock, saxophonist Kamasi Washington and bassist Stephen Bruner (AKA Thundercat).
You’re Dead! is both explosive and improvisational. Aside from the Kendrick-assisted “Never Catch Me,” most songs clock in under the three-minute mark and are solely instrumental. The disc runs from one playful-sounding idea to the next, bolstered by Lotus’ experimental flourishes and Thundercat’s tireless basslines. And though death may have inspired You’re Dead!, this record is brimming with life.
Yes, Astral Weeks is a jazz album. It was recorded over three sessions in late 1968, during which Van Morrison let his accompanying musicians play whatever they felt over his songs; and those musicians–flautist John Payne, guitarist Jay Berliner, bassist Richard Davis, drummer Connie Kay and percussionist Warren Smith Jr.–all happened to be accomplished jazz artists.
The eight songs that comprise Astral Weeks move on their own time. Van Morrison’s delivery is leisurely and not to be bothered, almost as if he’s dreaming up syllables seconds before he sings them. There were no rehearsals before the crew began recording, and some tracks are borderline messy. However, it’s that messiness that allows the album to emit love and pain and all the other basic emotions in such a raw, base, human way.
There’s a big part of me that thinks Astral Weeks is a really, really doofy record. But there’s a bigger part of me that loves hearing Davis pluck that first bassline on the title track–that loves knowing I’m about to get lost in Van Morrison’s surreal, harmonious vision for the next hour.