Thursday, 13 March 2014

Review: John Coltrane - Kulu Se Mama

'Kulu Se Mama' is a distinct and unique, though far from essential, entry in the John Coltrane canon. No-one's favourite 'Trane recording, its oddity status does however contribute greatly to its name, and to its charm.

Two very different settings - somewhat schizophrenically - make up the record, with the classic quartet of Coltrane, Tyner, Garrison and Jones taking up the bulk of the space. 'Vigil' is a duet of Coltrane's saxophone and Elvin Jones' drums, echoing the later 'Trane and Rashied Ali sessions that would later comprise the famous post-humously released 'Interstellar Space', while 'Welcome' is, somewhat surprisingly given the more aggressive and 'spiritual' playing of the time, one of the most lyrically beautiful pieces that the great man has ever laid down.

Though 'Welcome' is the clear highlight here however, it's the title track that gets the most notices. Bolstering the quartet with Donald Garrett on bass clarinet (and occasional second bass), Frank Buttler on second drums, and the very first appearance of fellow tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders on a Coltrane album, the songs composer Juno Lewis also adds various percussion and some very distinct chanting vocals to the mix. The result is a thick and heady brew, full of colour and spice, but one that doesn't successfully gel over its eighteen minutes. More a group jam effort than anything before it, it comes over as an easy-going groove session between friends, but one that at times can be both deep and full of African-focused rhythms, and at others sprawling and without co-ordination – sometimes wildly so.

Ultimately, it's a real mixed bag – comprising some of the final days of 'the classic quartet', and one fairly 'out-there' free jam heavy on rhythm and groove, though distracted by the in-reality quite jarring chants of Lewis. It's frequently absent status from the Impulse catalogue therefore isn't that surprising, but it isn't deserved either. There's some good music here, and highly enjoyable too, but the jam-like nature and rough mixed feel easily isn't for everyone and makes this one solely for the established Coltrane fan.


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