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Coltrane Re-Imagined: Rova’s Electric Ascension

Twelve “12″ innovative master-musicians in a one-time euphoric incarnation of John Coltrane’s mighty Ascension, to be filmed for posterity at Guelph Jazz Festival…



Twelve “12” innovative master-musicians in a one-time euphoric incarnation of John Coltrane’s mighty Ascension, to be filmed for posterity at Guelph Jazz Festival September 7, 2012.

By Paul J. Youngman

John Coltrane’s Ascension was called, “…the most powerful human sound ever recorded” in Down Beat Magazine in 1965, and “the most vexatious work in jazz history” by jazz critic Gary Giddins. These contradictory claims indicate just how controversial this music was at the time Coltrane recorded it in 1965. Ascension in fact still causes arguments; the ideas behind the music are still alive and making waves. All the more reason to rejoice in Electric Ascension, reincarnated for the 21st century in live performance by the large, fluctuating ensemble “Orkestrova”.

The presenters wish to share the experience of this new Ascension with a world-wide audience of enthusiasts of forward-thinking jazz, improvised music, high-level artistry and John Coltrane.

In his late period music, John Coltrane sought nothing less than universal consciousness. Listening to the original Ascension after four decades, we encounter a formidable work, bristling with creativity and the power to inspire. In Electric Ascension, we find a later generation of musicians exploring the territory, still reaching for liberation and audience transformation. Rova Saxophone Quartet arrangers Jon Raskin and Larry Ochs have cast their Electric Ascension with improvisers weaned on Coltrane and the sonic experiments of the decades that followed his passing in 1967. Since 2003, performances of this work at 7 festivals in North America and Europe have been a revelation and met with standing ovations and critical acclaim.

I have never heard anything like it, and will remember it for the rest of my life. I encourage everyone to one day dig these prophets. – from Jambase review of 2003 show in San Francisco.

On September 7, 2012 Orkestrova will perform Electric Ascension at the Guelph Jazz Festival in Ontario. On the Main Stage of the River Run Centre, Rova Saxophone Quartet will be joined by monster players Nels Cline on electric guitar, Fred Frith on electric bass, Hamid Drake on drums, Jenny Scheinman and Carla Kihlstedt on violins, Ikue Mori and Chris Brown on electronics, and Rob Mazurek on cornet and electronics. Because of the cost of collecting all these master musicians in one place and because of inevitable scheduling conflicts, the Guelph Jazz Festival show will be only the second performance since 2007, so it is crucial to take advantage of this rare opportunity to hear and film the inevitable sonic rave-up by this cast of musical instigators.

Rova Arts is partnering with John Rogers of Ideas In Motion who has been at work for four years on Cleaning the Mirror, a documentary about how Electric Ascension evolved from Coltrane’s masterwork. The full-length Guelph concert-video would accompany and complete the documentary. In Roger’s words…“I’ve seen Electric Ascension performed four times now, and each performance has been a transcendent musical experience and a powerful evocation of the spirit of John Coltrane. The documentary we are making explores the meaning of engaging with Coltrane’s composition for the musicians, the physics of conducted improvisation, some history, and snatches of the music. But from the beginning I saw the documentary as accompanying a complete concert. This music must be experienced in its entirety to appreciate its vitality, its emotion, and the terrains of the exploration undertaken by the ensemble.”

Our proposed concert video will be as invaluable as it is unparalleled. As enthusiasts know all too well, performances of innovative jazz works of this scale and ambition are extremely rare. Even rarer are opportunities to see them captured on multiple cameras with the same level of artistry one would expect in a network broadcast of a world-class symphony orchestra. Rogers and partner Jim Maier have shot Electric Ascension, documentary style, in Paris and Saalfelden, so we know what the challenges are. There is a tremendous amount transpiring on-stage, and the more you can see of it the more your understanding of the music grows, and the more profound your experience becomes. The musician interactions are varied, simultaneous, spread out all over the stage, and often defy capture on camera. With multiple cameras, we will get all the action in a precise and intimate way… A five-camera, high quality video of Electric Ascension, performed in its entirety, will be an unprecedented musical document.

So if you can’t be there in person on September 7, or even if you do plan to be there, join this global community of people and world-class musicians forming here, and help us make this exciting music accessible to many others. In addition to the DVD, there are plans for screenings of this concert-shoot and the feature documentary in cities around the USA, Canada and Europe. Help us to prove the late Glenn Spearman’s claim, made as he left the stage after performing Ascension with Rova: “the mof&!#king piece! It’s the “Handel’s Messiah” of jazz, man! We should be playing this every year at Christmas!!”

An independent journalist, based in Toronto, Canada. A professional musician and a fan of music, dance and the arts. I have written short stories, lyrics, poetry and reviews. I have been published in numerous online webzines. I’ve taught drumming and played in bands; I have felt the passion to create. I enjoy expressing that passion, the artistic experience, in words, reporting on the shows and musical experiences that I have witnessed.


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