Alice Coltrane

The Elements, Joe Henderson (Milestone, 1974)

Personnel: Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute, piano); Alice Coltrane (harp, piano, harmonium, tamboura); Kenneth Nash (spoken vocals, wood flute, congas, sakura drum, bells, gongs, percussion); Michael White (violin); Charlie Haden (bass); Ndugu Chancler (drums); Baba Daru Oshun (tabla, percussion). Recorded at Village Recorder Studio, Los Angeles CA Oct 15-17 1973

One critic began his review of this 1974 release with the following comment, ‘This is one of the odder Joe Henderson recordings’ - while the comment made me laugh, it puzzled me as this record is strikingly coherent; in its theme, the four elements (Fire/Air/Water/Earth) and the way the musicians meld together, as one commentary put it, ‘the musicians' collective genius at listening and responding to each other’.

Combining both epic, melodic expressions of spirituality and belief (see the final 13-minute piece ‘Earth’) and deconstructed musical play (found in the lively opener that I wrote 'sounds like plastic' and keeps popping unexpectedly, ‘Fire’ for example) but always, always pushed along by a musical intensity and sharp intelligence. You can still feel the energy of this music, more than four decades on from when it was first recorded and imagined.

As with any truly great Jazz record, it needs to be heard in one sitting, to allow the memory of the earlier pieces to inform your experience of what is happening now, in the present moment. I first came to this music via ‘Earth’ (seeking out anything I could find that featured Alice Coltrane) but more recently I’ve been listening to ‘Water’ on repeat. In the words of another fan of the record:

Joe does things on this album that are unlike anything else he ever did as far as the sound and tone of his sax are concerned. One example of this is the effects he uses on the third cut ‘Water’. He was able to “treat” his sax to make it sound as if it were emanating from the far depths of the ocean …

Coda: 

Alice Coltrane ... (Paris: November, 2015)

Making lists, on scraps of paper - post-it notes that will later be put in my bag; just in case I forget something, only to be reminded of it on my return.

The police found a car, abandoned near Simplon. They say that the car was left there by the (as yet) unnamed 9th attacker; they say that this might mean that the terrorists had been planning to attack the 18th as well.

Last night, lying in bed, listening to music - my 75018 T-shirt, faded - I think to myself, I need to write about jazz again. Music after a holocaust ...

I saw the video of a pregnant woman, hanging outside the bar window, calling out to those below her to catch her (before being pulled back inside, where the men with guns were). Someone compared the dead bodies to Dante's Inferno. Some hid for hours and could hear the people being tortured, with knives (this is what I read). 

There are words to be written here about what remains.  Of wonder and awe  ... 

After great suffering and loss. 

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –
— After great pain, a formal feeling comes – (372) BY EMILY DICKINSON

I typed part of this poem many years ago and placed it near my desk.

The city shut the libraries, told us not to go to public spaces and stay inside. I walked with my son around the neighbourhood as we had nowhere else to go (the metro was deserted, it remained like that for days). I asked a mother on the Sunday if the parks were still closed.

Today I saw that they were warning us not to mention the location of police, as it may aid the terrorists (is the 'mastermind' in Saint-Denis, or in Syria). I went to see a film at UGC Les Halles, it was empty of people; two men in front of me carried large bags, I told the security guard (he thanked me), I was too frightened to go inside; I had to leave.

Music after the holocaust. Of and about transcendence ...

There are words to be written here.