Massive & intense in-studio interpretation of John Coltrane's masterwork, Ascension- as performed by an all-star ensemble featuring The Rova Saxophone Quartet, Nels Cline (Wilco & more), guitar legend Fred Frith, Ikue Mori (formerly of No New York stars DNA), turntable wizard Otomo Yoshihide, plus other stellar guests.
“Coltrane’s Ascension belongs right up there in the pantheon of multi-recorded masterworks. Since this is only the second recording by someone other than Coltrane, there’s plenty of room for it and more. We decided to record it because we could, and because we had a very heavy line-up of "free-jazz" players who we thought could handle the large ensemble improvisations. But somewhere in the middle of the performance, as I was standing onstage in a state of reverie listening, I looked up at the sky and thanked my lucky stars for the experience that I was then taking part in. I realized that this composition- so unassuming on paper, was in fact a master form.
I like to think that, if Coltrane were still alive and still as adventurous, would have organized a similar band to play this piece in 2003- and I definitely believe that what we have here on record could never have been made 40 years ago. Both technologically and conceptually, this performance couldn’t have happened. Why I say that may be obvious to some, but for those of you who think I’m dissing Coltrane, Sanders, et al., let me explain: 1965 was very much in the early stages of what is usually called "free jazz", but what I think of as "structured improvisation" (a more all-encompassing term). At that time, asking seven wind players, two basses, a drummer, and a pianist to come together and blow collectively, with no rehearsal, was more than ground-breaking. Almost none of these artists had had that experience before. And MUCH more importantly, as far as I know, neither had almost anyone else. And certainly there were virtually no recordings to study. Simply put: the entire concept of free improvisation was barely an idea in anyone’s mind.
Forty years later, the concept is not only a known quantity, but it’s been absorbed, analyzed, worked on, thought about, discussed, "improved." So it only follows that we’d be able to take Coltrane’s beautiful piece and intuit implications for it that the original sound-explorers could not have realized at that time- the first time... the respect everyone has for the composer, for the other musicians involved, and for the form called "structured improvisation" makes the music what it is. We are indebted to John Coltrane (and other great artists) for inspiring us to engage uncompromisingly in the risky business of creativity.”