In the end my decision to bring Coltranology Volume 2 to Record Club was sealed by my reflections on Rob’s offering at the previous round. I was so taken by Buddy Holly’s greatest hits that I more-or-less immediately acquired a copy of his second album; an album which is spectacular in its raw, unfettered simplicity. I have listened to it a lot since I bought it, becoming dangerously addicted in the process. But, as our themed night grew ever nearer, I had to go looking through my collection for an instrumental album (we had to find some way of stopping Mitchell singing along) and I thought the fact that John Coltrane was making music so complex and demanding at roughly the same point in time that Buddy Holly was releasing his music would make for a neat comparison. So I chose the second volume of Coltrane’s little known 1962 live album, Coltranology. Coincidentally, I also really like it!
In comparison to today, music must have seemed to offer so little choice back then – looking back it seems as though the options were rock’n’roll, easy listening or jazz. And whilst I can now appreciate the skill and innovation of Holly’s simple tunes, I am sure I would have gravitated towards jazz if I had been consuming music at the turn of the 60s, drawn to its outsider attitude and thrilling unpredictability, whilst simultaneously sneering at the ridiculous sappy pap on offer elsewhere. But, funnily enough, my 2015 self and jazz have a far less easy relationship than I imagine I would have had had there been so little to choose from and I have numerous jazz albums in my collection that I have no desire to go near again, with or without barge pole.
I recall Graham writing, in his response to Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel…, that he either likes an artist to stick to the rules or completely break them, suggesting that Ms Apple did neither. I guess I’m the opposite, preferring those who tinker, bend and shape their music away from the familiar, whilst still providing a safety net of familiarity. That’s probably why I am drawn to this live album from 1962 rather than Coltrane’s slightly safer earlier output or the cacophony he whipped up on his later, perhaps more heralded, albums. The four tracks on Coltranology Volume 2 constantly teeter on the brink of collapse but, crucially for me, Coltrane reins in his instincts to go entirely stratospheric just enough to provide sufficient structure to give the listener something to hang on to, to look forwards to, to recognise! Maybe it’s not as groundbreaking as what was to come next, but I know what I would rather be listening to! Coltranology Volume 2 was the first John Coltrane album I acquired and, whilst I have gone on to add Meditations, Giant Steps and A Love Supreme to my collection, it is the runt of the litter that I find so hard to resist, offering, as it does, just enough light and shade to make it captivating, thrilling and, to my mind at least, accessible enough.
Rob listened: I know where Tom is coming from. Much as my own musical devotions have mostly been shaped by the lean, brutal simplicity of rock and roll, had I been around when the form was being hewn out then I would probably have been too much of a jazz snob to have given it any headspace whatsoever. Which would presumably have left me a jazz aficionado who missed out on ‘Sister Ray’ and ‘Trout Mask Replica’ and yes, even the Haxan Cloak. As it goes, I dabble a (very) little in Jazz, but with a gleeful lack of knowledge, which I value in this context. Some of it I really like, some of it I would like to like, some of it I admire, some of it I can’t take seriously. I heard an edition of Sound Opinions recently that offered ‘A Rock Fan’s Guide To Jazz‘. Therein, John Corbett talked about his breakthrough with Jazz being the moment he realised there was nothing to ‘get’. From that point he just went with it, dived deeper into the stuff he liked and stayed away from the stuff he didn’t without trying to figure any of it out. I can dig that. At the same time I can totally buy Steve Albini’s famously dismissive views on the form. However i’m feeling on any given day, what never fails to amaze me is just how wild some of this stuff still sounds, 50 or 60 years after it was recorded.
The first side of this record was as crazed as the most wilfully abrasive black metal or disembodied electronica. The second side was a bit more beautiful. Put together, they made a fine listen.
Nick Listened: Writing this months after the fact – my own fault – makes remembering what I thought of this record pretty difficult. I remember it seemed pretty muddy in terms of sound quality (old live recording, vinyl), and that I thought this probably detracted from its impact a little. Bits, as Rob suggests, of the second side were really quite beautiful, bits of the first side had that jazz thing that I don’t always quite get, where it genuinely sounds like people are playing entirely different things from each other, and I’m not – despite owning and loving a lot of jazz – quite musical enough to get what they’re doing. Interestingly, Miles Davis (who I rarely suffer from that problem with) described Coltrane (in an interview in about 1982) as a ‘selfish’ musician, something which made sense to me. I’ve always preferred Miles to Coltrane; the latter seemed to quest further and further into himself, looking for new intensities, while the former seemed to be always moving outwards, looking for new canvases to paint his trumpet over.