John Coltrane - "Meditations"

John Coltrane • Meditations • 1966 • Impulse! A-9110 / AS-9110
Recorded November 23, 1965 at Rudy Van Gelder Studios, NJ

The Selection: 

The Players:

John Coltrane - Tenor Saxophone
Pharoah Sanders - Tenor Saxophone
McCoy Tyner - Piano
Jimmy Garrison - Bass
Elvin Jones - Drums
Rashied Ali - Drums

The Tracks:

A1. The Father And The Son And The Holy Ghost / Compassion
B1. Love / Consequences / Serenity

The Music:

I always find myself conflicted about late-period Coltrane recordings: are they pure brilliance or just a whole bunch of noise? I know that if I'm just gonna kick back to relax and throw on a Trane record to listen to, it surely won't be one of his later, more avant-garde outings. For my money, his best music was produced between 1957 (Blue Train) and 1965 (A Love Supreme). This period includes his work with Monk, his early Prestige records, the groundbreaking Atlantic recordings and finally ends up with his Impulse! records featuring his classic quartet of McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones.

I also happen to suffer from a certain affliction, which involves a lack of purchasing self-control when I come across a quality copy of a Coltrane album that's missing from my collection, even if it is one of his more intense later recordings that I may not listen to regularly (this condition, of course, is not limited to Coltrane LPs). When I came across Meditations in the "new arrivals" bin, I just couldn't help myself, especially at the $20 asking price. 

As luck would have it, Meditations finds a middle ground for Trane's forays into the free jazz that he was beginning to explore towards the end of 1965. It was a spiritual follow-up of sorts to A Love Supreme, as Coltrane tells Nat Hentoff in the liner notes:

"Once you become aware of this force for unity in life, you can't ever forget it. It becomes part of everything you do. In that respect, this is an extension of A Love Supreme since my conception of that force keeps changing shape. My goal in meditating on this through music, however, remains the same. And that is to uplift people, as much as I can. To inspire them to realize more and more of their capacities for living meaningful lives. Because there certainly is meaning to life."

While this album may uplift and inspire, it also has moments of loud and aggressive music, with plenty of squeaking and squawking from Trane and Pharoah Sanders. Yet, what makes it accessible to the less adventurous listener are the passages of quiet and relaxed beauty.

The nearly 13 minute opening, "The Father And The Son And The Holy Ghost," is the most avant-garde track on the album, unrelenting in Trane's vision of the realm he wants this music to reside. It is a noisy symphony of sounds, some of which seem to be at odds with each other - as if the players are battling each other. This is the kind of stuff that can turn a jazz newbie away from the avant-garde permanently. Things ease up, though, as side one finishes up with "Compassion," easily my favorite track on the record, as it features McCoy Tyner front and center, playing his lyrical and groovy piano riffs, the ones that made the group's earlier Impulse! records so great.

The second side of Meditations is comprised of a long three-part track that starts off with "Love," which features a beautiful extended bass solo by Garrison (almost three minutes long) before Trane joins in alone, followed by the rest of the players who come in and slowly build up the momentum until things get wild and crazy again for "Consequences," where the squawking resumes with full force. "Consequences" ends with a solo Tyner section that transitions into the shortest tune on the album, "Serenity," featuring some great Coltrane soloing to end out the record. 

Tyner and Elvin Jones would end their affiliation with Coltrane after this record, signaling the end of an important partnership in jazz music. After they left the band, Trane moved even further from his hard bop roots into truly "out-there" territory. Had he not tragically died in July of 1967 (less than two years after Meditations was recorded) there is really no telling where the musical spirit would have taken him. And in the end maybe that is why there is still an enduring fascination with his later recordings, for those of us who love Coltrane they are a sad reminder of an unfinished musical journey by one of jazz's great visionaries. 

The Vinyl:

I have a second stereo pressing, with Van Gelder stamp in the runoff and the "A Product of ABC Records, Inc. New York, N.Y. 10019 • Made in USA" in the footer of the label. I generally find these second generation Impulse! releases to be on par with the original issues as far as the audio quality goes. The gatefold cover retains the mono catalog number A-9110 in the familiar white circle, but denotes that it is a stereo release in the top right corner. The cover photograph is out of focus, which I think is a nice touch considering how the record "blurs" the lines of where jazz music could go. 

As with most Coltrane titles, there is no shortage of all vintages of pressings of Meditations available on eBay, with prices all over the map. Original stereo pressings (I believe stereo would be the preferred version for this record) go from between $20-$40, while a second pressing can be had for under $20.

 John Coltrane (Photo By Chuck Stewart)

John Coltrane (Photo By Chuck Stewart)