Top positive review
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Waves of music
on 30 January 2009
This review refers to Edition Two of Ascension.
Listening to Ascension is like listening to Trout Mask Replica. Well, I suppose as Ascension came first I should actually say that listening to Trout Mask Replica (TMR) is like listening to Ascension. Never mind though. The reason I'm drawing a comparison between the two is because for the first few songs of TMR and the first five or ten minutes of Ascension I didn't really know what to make of them. Just as TMR completely changed what I thought pop music could be, Ascension changed (albeit to a lesser degree) my assumptions about jazz. Ascension starts off by blasting you in the face with alto saxophones, tenor saxophones, trumpets, bass, piano and drums all playing together in a hellish and cacophonous manner that took me completely by surprise. It's very jarring the first time you hear it, and looking up at the time left on iTunes and seeing that there's forty minutes it's quite intimidating as well. This boil of racket and noise went on for about three and a half minutes before the first solo of the piece, by Coltrane himself, came in and everyone but Elvin Jones on drums backed off (I think, I can't remember exactly) to let the great man play his beautiful music. Coltrane's solo is filled with high pitched notes, twisting runs and gratuitous amounts of genius. It manages to pull it all right back down to earth. I should mention now, before I forget, that Elvin Jones' drumming on Ascension is just incredible. He plays almost non-stop for the entire forty minutes with only one break during McCoy Tyner's brilliant piano solo. Jones' drumming is so good it puts heavy metal drummers to shame. It really is just awesome.
The entire album follows a strict structure of ensemble playing followed by solo, followed by another ensemble piece followed by another solo, etc, for the full forty minutes, though the music is anything but strict in any sense of the word. Each musician, with the exception of Jones, gets to play a solo and they had complete control of them, except that each one had to finish with a crescendo. This loud quiet loud quiet dynamic of ensemble solo ensemble solo gives the album a sense of journey, literally an ascension to some higher musical plane of existence. During the third ensemble piece it all clicked together for me, the many noises and many lines of music fitting like pieces in a puzzle, sounding like an ocean now, and whereas it was hellish before it was now whatever the opposite of that is. Of course, it still sounds completely cacophonous, like it should. Every solo sounds like a monolith on a beach, playing to the sea as the waves rush forward to drown the beach during the next ensemble piece. It is strikingly beautiful, even when it doesn't seem to make sense, when there are too many voices all playing at once to be able to hear each one individually. It is always beautiful.
I haven't read any of the other reviews here so I don't know what other people are saying, but if you are unsure whether to buy this album, defiantly like jazz, and have heard at least some other Coltrane albums, then I absolutely recommend you purchase this album. It is a masterpiece and one of the greatest albums ever written. It is intense, fiery, bombastic, puzzling, rich, epic, heavenly.