John Coltrane – infinity


Here’s a fairly short & immensely intriguing four track CD made all the more distinguished amongst Coltrane’s considerable archives because it has a separately recorded (then spliced) classical orchestra coinciding through the bulk of the disk. Other sections of the original performances are also edited (certain instruments are at times muted in the mix or greatly reduced in volume allowing for elevated concentration on individual soloing) & I suspect some overdubs have made their way amongst the amalgamations. Coltrane really had three comportments – weltering Avant ferments of ecstatic smouldering free-flow intensity (for me Coltrane at his best, but I think his least popular amongst his majority fans), what I would refer to as his traditional mode & of course his “Spiritual Jazz”. Although I study Coltrane’s stuff extensively, I am completely fixated/biased to his mad uncompromising blow-out material, finding the traditional stuff too straight & his spiritual stuff too saccharine & quixotic. This of course is my own opinion & will contrast massively to the majority of his acolytes. Infinity is about my tenth Coltrane LP & is probably the most balanced I have heard pulling in all his versions/styles, not just between the trax but often within them.

The album opens with Peace On Earth. The Orchestra enter first with ginormous precipices of epic rise & fall, vast ascending & diving. some will have to forgive my levity but I find it quite pompous, especially when the saxophone eventually enjoins to disport amongst the clouds. With a title like Peace On Earth, y’ can imagine that this is immodestly idealistic stuff! & why the fuck not? It was 1966 & a laureate with a vision was on the cusp of revolutionary fervour. Spasming tambourines & inceptive homilies eventually give way to some jittering freeform from Coltrane & the orchestra before they reclaim their composure & continue with the spiritual basking. It then subsides to a rapid harp solo from Alice, I mean this is some Garden Of Eden panglossion overdrive. It’s a matter of personal taste, I’ll have to sit this one out because it’s too mawkish for me, but fascinating & obviously fantastically played. After a reprisal of the second theme, the strings go into what sounds like a North West African gait. This whole track almost feels like a costive primer, or inceptive ceremony to herald or prepare for the session/voyage ahead.

Living Space kicks in at track number two, beginning with grandiose themes not to dissimilar to the last but eventually falling into less conceptual/emotive & more musical/structured territory. It’s pretty traditional, but Coltrane shifts & flips in & out of extremities/approaches with his soling, threatening to go really berserk but never quite crossing states into his shredding hurricane prone offensive. The track ends with an undulating loop (played live).

Third up is Joy, which starts with more sparkling harp cascading & some pretty lachrymose string arrangements from the orchestra that once again nod towards Sudan or the horn of Africa region before Coltrane steams in with a jovial n’ jolly pattern over Elvin’s hard swing. I’m starting to think nothing on this album is going to crank the vaults before the tone entirely flips/drops & brilliantly the orchestra starts to play massive almost discordant lurches whilst Coltrane douses his soling with more urgency & threat. This is very cool indeed & has the momentum of Jones’s mid-tempo but hard swing. Unfortunately this is where to me one of the biggest mistakes of the album occur. Everything is on a fantastic trajectory, if it continues or better still escalates, brilliance is assured. Instead, it’s time for a bass solo, a massive bass solo. Nothing wrong with Haden’s playing, but nothing amazing here either, & for gods sakes not now, total coitus-interruptus. & I guess you can see the reasoning, a forced contrast & then a heightened reprisal of the initial excellence, but for me this is a grave mistake & although it does not ruin, completely disrupts a great track & diminishes it’s overall quality, especially regarding it’s replayability as wading through a standard solitary three minute bass solo every time I listen is not for me. The orchestra gets more & more agitated & noisy before eventually ending on a long drawn out note. Some very fine playing & arrangements here but the protracted bass soloing really deflates this one.

& finally it’s Leo! When you hear Leo & Coltrane in close vicinity you know you’re going to get your rump shredded. It’s pretty much straight in with the strangling & histrionics, the gloves are finally off, the spiritualists sated & the chaos can commence. It’s pretty fierce but extinguishes after just 3.30 minutes transgressing into an orchestral percussion section before Alice goes nuts on the Piano & then electric Organ in her own style. Her two solo’s beckon fast noisy communal free-fall from the Orchestra before Coltrane re-enters at full ferocity with Pharaoh Sander’s only just audible in the backdrop (a pity that). It’s a shame that everything could not just have been exploding together instead of things being constantly faded in & out. Too bad this is the only full-force kinetic track on the album.

Although to me clearly flawed, Infinity is a very interesting Coltrane disc. His three most distinct angles are displayed dynamically & the addition of the Orchestral wing is inventive & hugely intriguing. The album is very short but it’s duration feels satisfactory. His Spiritual stuff is an acquired taste, one that I as an intensity/kinetics fanatic don’t have any appetite for at all, but blatantly as a fantastic saxophonist & preponderate innovator Coltrane’s stuff is a source of ginormous interest & respect for me. I’m still figuring out which style is his prevailing motif (presuming there is one) but this album is an excellent elision of his 3 worlds.

Label: Impulse Records

Rekd: Jazz instrumentations: 1965-66 , Orchestral instrumentations: 1975