Ascension (John Coltrane album)
Ascension is a jazz album by John Coltrane recorded in 1965 and released in 1966. It is often considered a watershed in Coltrane's work, with the albums recorded before it being more conventional in structure and the albums recorded after it being looser, free jazz inspired works. In addition, it signaled Coltrane's interest in moving away from the quartet format. Coltrane described Ascension in a radio interview as a "big band thing", although it resembles no big band recording made before it. The most obvious antecedent is Ornette Coleman's octet (or "double quartet") recording, Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation, which—like Ascension—is a continuous 40-minute performance with ensemble passages and without breaks. Jazz musician Dave Liebman, commenting on Ascension, recalled that the album was the "torch that lit the free jazz thing". George Russell stated that the recording of Ascension was "when Coltrane turned his back on the money."
|Studio album by|
|Recorded||June 28, 1965|
|Studio||Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ|
|Genre||Free jazz, avant-garde jazz|
|Length||40:49 (Edition II)|
38:30 (Edition I)
79:19 (CD release)
|John Coltrane chronology|
|The Penguin Guide to Jazz||(crown)|
|Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
|The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide|||
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
Coltrane's horn section is moored to a rhythm section, centered on pianist McCoy Tyner, double bassists Jimmy Garrison and Art Davis, and drummer Elvin Jones. On Ascension (and unlike on Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz), group ensembles alternate with solos, and take up about equal space. The basic theme stated in the opening and closing ensembles is a variation on the major motif of Coltrane's earlier album A Love Supreme, recorded in December 1964, particularly the opening bass riff stated on said album's opening track, "Acknowledgment".
Coltrane gave the musicians no directions for their solos, other than that they were to end with a crescendo. The ensemble passages are more structured. There were chords, but apparently they were optional; it is more accurate to say that the ensembles consist of a progression of modes rather than chords, with mode changes signaled by Coltrane, pianist McCoy Tyner, and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. By comparison to Free Jazz, Ascension features a much expanded "front line", with two altos, three tenors, and two trumpeters.
The musicians that Coltrane chose to supplement the members of the classic quartet were a mix of players ranging from established to relatively unknown, all of whom were younger than Coltrane, and many of whom had played with Coltrane in the years preceding the recording of Ascension. Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and bassist Art Davis were well-known and well-recorded by that point, and both had recorded with Coltrane on Africa/Brass and Olé Coltrane. (Davis also appeared on The John Coltrane Quartet Plays, recorded earlier in 1965.) Saxophonist Archie Shepp recorded his first Impulse! album, Four for Trane, in 1964 after Coltrane recommended him to producer Bob Thiele,, and went on to release over a dozen albums on the label. Shepp, along with Art Davis, also appeared on an alternate take of the "Acknowledgement" section of A Love Supreme, which was released more than thirty years after the appearance of the original recording. Shortly after the recording of Ascension, Shepp appeared on New Thing at Newport, a split LP with Coltrane's quartet appearing on side one and Shepp's quartet on side two.
Shepp also introduced Coltrane to saxophonist Marion Brown, and Coltrane soon used his influence at Impulse! to help Brown secure the recording date for Three for Shepp. Saxophonist John Tchicai had previously recorded with Shepp as part of the New York Contemporary Five and on Four for Trane, and also sat in with Coltrane during one or more performances at the Half Note. Trumpeter Dewey Johnson had played with Marion Brown and repeatedly sat in with Coltrane's group before being asked to participate in the recording of Ascension. Saxophonist Pharoah Sanders had performed with Sun Ra, whose music Coltrane admired, and had also played and practiced yogic breathing exercises with Marion Brown. In 1964, Coltrane invited Sanders to sit in with his group after hearing his debut recording on the ESP label and attending a concert by Sanders's band, which featured John Hicks, Wilbur Ware, and Billy Higgins, at the Village Gate. (Ware and Higgins had both previously recorded with Coltrane.) Sanders was invited to join Coltrane's band in September 1965 and went on to play and record on many of Coltrane's later recordings.
In addition, drummer Rashied Ali, who would eventually join Coltrane's group, was invited to participate in the recording of Ascension, but passed up the opportunity, a decision he would soon come to regret. Saxophonist Frank Wright was also invited, but reportedly felt that his skills were not up to the demands of the music.
Order of soloists and ensemblesEdit
Two recordings of "Ascension" exist, called Edition I and Edition II. The latter replaced Edition I (also as A-95, with "EDITION II" etched on the vinyl runout circle) some months after the original release. Both versions are available on the single-CD version released by Impulse!/Verve/Universal in 2000 and were previously available on the 1992 double-disc collection The Major Works of John Coltrane on Impulse!/GRP/MCA. 
- Edition I
"Ascension" (John Coltrane) – 38:30
- Edition II
"Ascension" (Coltrane) – 40:49
- Billboard Feb 5, 1966
- Allmusic review
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- Giddins, Gary (1998). Visions of Jazz: The First Century. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 488.
- Porter, Lewis; DeVito, Chris; Fujioka, Yasuhiro; Wild, David; Schmaler, Wolf (2008). The John Coltrane Reference. Routledge. pp. 329–330.
- Grimes, William (August 14, 2009). "Rashied Ali, Free-Jazz Drummer, Dies at 76". NYTimes.com. Retrieved May 21, 2020.
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- "John Coltrane – Ascension (Edition II) (Vinyl, LP, Album) at Discogs". Discogs. Retrieved August 19, 2011.
- Ascension (CD insert, CD back cover). John Coltrane. Impulse. 2009. 0602517920248.CS1 maint: others (link)