Afro-Blue Review


Afro Blue: Coltrane's Jazz Tour de Force

Here is a musical piece that takes the listener through an audial soundscape unlike any other.

As I listen, all these many years later to the live recording at the defunct Manhattan club, Birdland, the hypnotic flow of the piano line and the fierce rhythm that Elvin Jones keeps up, to the crescendo makes me feel like I'm in another world. And I guess I am; a mind space, perhaps outside space and time, while McCoy Tyner's piano line, keeps going forward, ever forward, setting the tone of an extraordinary event. You see, it was a live recording and all the elements of such an event are present on the recording: the tinkling of glass, background conversation of the patrons, feedback on the microphones, you name it, it's all there! But lets not focus on that. McCoy Tyner's control of the keyboard defies imagination. He really not just accompanies Trane, but guides him to heights outside geometric abstraction.


Afro Blue is a song I first heard sung by Oscar Brown Jr. in the early 1960's (1963 to be exact) as a black consciousness song. He had adapted it from work of the famous Cuban percussionist, Mongo Santa Maria. His vocal interpretation, itself was an inspiration to the nascent social awareness movement sweeping Black America then, but when Trane took it to a jazz rendition, this song is the result.


Tyner, always the brilliant pianist carries the song throughout with his dramatic chord statements and incredible scalar transcending the whole keyboard. He builds tension, while plotting out a complex right-handed melodic detail. He keeps increasing the drama of this song with each procession and reiteration of the theme, until Trane's stellar return on soprano sax. When it comes, it's with a fiery burst of notes that are so well conceived it makes me hum them. I remember thinking: there's gotta be endomorphic mapping in this! The precise placement of notes around the core theme seems to be an injective map of certain notes. I still feel to this day that Trane is a mathematical musician if I've ever heard one. The progressions from major to minor are planned like Fibonnaci numbers ever growing in variety and expanse.


And then there is Jones on the drums. The backdrop and overlay of the whole piece is Elvin Jones's hard driving everywhere-at-once drumming. It gives the song a sense of being out there.You are no longer dealing with a song about black pride or any human notions, but a song that is taking you maybe into outer space or farther. Then Trane's staccato punctuations, flow in like a tide playing in response to Tyner's chords, it's all too much for me.


As the song winds down, Coltrane states simplistic lines with the soprano and I am by now in a surreal environment. I'm in a mood to consider the occult. The 33 of knowledge that Freemasons claim to understand. Things like: We can only know form and not structure. Why, because we are a part of the structure not the form and the structure cannot comprehend itself. We are the thing existing and not the form of existence and even then, form has no comprehension either... or that in all things there is recurrence and this is evident; there is no new thing at all, but just combinations of what has gone before all that exists, has existed and can NOT non-exist itself, but only go through forms of repetitive existence I wake up from this closed-eyed dream and hear the final crescendo of Elvin Jones and Trane and think: why does this music make me so metaphysically inclined?


In the late 60s my brother and I listened to this song over and over under the influence of cannabis, but now I am older and reefer free, but the dreams and flights continue.

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Robleh Wais 3/16/2006