Go Hawaii – Casino Ver­sus Ja­pan

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE - Donal Di­neen DON­ALD CLARKE

I fre­quently have great con­ver­sa­tions about mu­sic and the magic of it, of­ten stem­ming di­rectly from some­thing I once did. People tell me how they heard this or that song on the ra­dio show one time, and heads were sent spin­ning from the sound of it all.

They’ve hap­pened in hos­pi­tal surg­eries, churches, chip­pers and on ev­ery cor­ner of ev­ery town I’ve ever been. I’ve al­ways time for such chats. It re­minds me how sub­jec­tive mu­si­cal taste is and how end­less is its ca­pac­ity to help all sorts of people. The com­mon theme is how much it all means. There’s no ar­gu­ment there: Everything.

If I were to com­pile a list of the mu­sic people talk about some­where near the top would be Casino Ver­sus Ja­pan. I love hear­ing this. This was al­ways at the front of the mav­er­ick box.

It was a thrill be­ing able to vouch for it. It’s mys­te­ri­ous and deeply magical. The story of its maker is one of the great ex­am­ples of what hap­pens when a star stays un­der­ground. These are my kind of sol­diers. He­roes on the ground.

It’s the cre­ation of a man called Erik Kowal­ski from Mil­wau­kee, Wis­con­sin. He con­sid­ered him­self a mu­sic fan first and fore­most and drifted late into mak­ing mu­sic of his own, hav­ing taught him­self to play sev­eral in­stru­ments.

The two records pre­vi­ous to this one are more in­stru­men­tal am­bi­ent mu­sic. They are lik­able but with the ad­di­tion of a com­puter to his arse­nal, he took his game up sev­eral notches.

Go Hawaii is pretty much un­clas­si­fi­able. Wrapped up in a dreamy hazy fog of tech­ni­cal wiz­ardry is a record team­ing with pop tunes. It’s hummable in the up­per busi­ness class bracket. These are the kind of melodies you need in your life. They’re life part­ners. With you all the way, sound­ing better with pass­ing time.

The man­ner in which Kowal­ski used his pro­gram­ming ge­nius to make them sound like they are air­borne and free-float­ing is some kind of sweet lit­tle mys­tery. One of many that be­guile this record.

Ladies and gen­tle­men, we are float­ing in space. 10. MY FAVOURITE THINGS – From The Ola­tanji Con­cert: The Last Live Record­ings (1967) – This is an un­usual se­lec­tion, but the last ex­tant live record­ing of My Favourite Things – made just months be­fore the sax­o­phon­ist’s death – demon­strates quite how deep into ab­strac­tion he had passed. Be­gins with a bass solo. Moves on to some­thing like a train crash. Brain jud­der­ing. 9. BLUE TRAIN – From Blue Train (1958) – Sur­pris­ingly, Coltrane made just the one record­ing for Blue Note records. The lengthy ti­tle track – with its droop­ing, much-sam­pled open­ing – is com­fort­ably the high­light of a solid set fea­tur­ing the great Lee Mor­gan on trum­pet. 8. GIANT STEPS – From Giant Steps (1960) – Hard bop styles are revved up to create a busy chord pro­gres­sion that has in­spired a hun­dred im­pro­vi­sa­tions in the suc­ceed­ing years. Not ex­actly pretty. But the in­tri­ca­cies are de­li­cious, 7. CHASIN’ THE TRANE – From the Com­plete 1961 Vil­lage Van­guard Record­ings (1961) – Es­sen­tially one enor­mous tenor im­pro­vi­sa­tion, this an­gu­lar track pulls all the flavours of Coltrane’s mu­sic into the same awk­ward pack­age. There are gen­u­flec­tions to the “ne­gro spir­i­tual”. There are ges­tures to­wards the free jazz to come. Epic. 6. NAIMA – From Giant Steps (1960) – See also the lovely, live ver­sions on the Van­guard Record­ings. Coltrane was just as ca­pa­ble of sweet in­tro­spec­tion as he was of fu­ri­ous de­con­struc­tion. This del­i­cate trib­ute to his then wife makes cun­ning use of a float­ing re­frain that never reaches its con­clu­sion. 5. MY FAVOURITE THINGS – From My Favourite Things (1960) – To this point the so­prano sax­o­phone had, in jazz, been as­so­ci­ated al­most ex­clu­sively with the old-school stylings of Sid­ney Bechet. Im­pro­vis­ing over ex­ul­tant pi­ano chords by McCoy Tyner, Coltrane uses the in­stru­ment to make a spi­ralling raga of Rodgers and Ham­mer­stein’s show tune. 4. ALABAMA – From Live at Bird­land (1963) – Coltrane’s in­stru­men­tal re­sponse to the 16th Street Bap­tist Church bomb­ing that killed four young Alabama girls in 1963. Be­gins with a lament. Moves on to equiv­o­cal cel­e­bra­tion. Re­turns to the lament. A pow­er­ful emo­tional record of a ter­ri­ble time. (De­spite the LP ti­tle, Alabama is a stu­dio record­ing.) 3. AS­CEN­SION Part I – From As­cen­sion (1965) – A bit of a cheat this. The “track” is es­sen­tially an en­tire vinyl al­bum. But it would be a scan­dal to leave out Coltrane’s ex­haust-

John Coltrane, Shadow Wil­son, Th­elo­nious Monk and Ahmed Ab­dul-Ma­lik

in­gly pow­er­ful ex­per­i­ment in big-band free jazz. Be­gins with a crazy fan­fare to the heav­ens and goes on to in­vite so­los from a host of tal­ent in­clud­ing Fred­die Hub­bard, Pharoah San­ders and Archie Shepp. 2. A LOVE SUPREME Part I – AC­KNOWL­EDG­MENT – From A Love Supreme (1965) – An­other slight cheat. Ac­knowl­edge­ment is just one part of an al­bum that forms a co­her­ent suite on the theme of faith. The open­ing sec­tion is none­the­less among the most com­plete tracks in the Coltrane oeu­vre. Be­gins with a fa­mous bass line from Jimmy Gar­ri­son that plays to the al­bum ti­tle’s rhythms. Ends with the quar­tet chant­ing the words aloud. 1. INDIA – From From the Com­plete 1961 Vil­lage Van­guard Record­ings (1961) – So much is packed into this swirling, com­plex live record­ing. The drone that sounds be­neath the piece sat­is­fies the prom­ises made in the track’s ti­tle. The fall­ing re­frain in the core riff in­flu­enced the Byrds’s Eight Miles High. The ver­sion fea­tur­ing Eric Dol­phy on bass clar­inet, Ahmed Ab­dul-Ma­lik on tan­pura and Garvin Bushell on (prob­a­bly) cor anglais in­volves a level of am­bi­tion and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion that still makes the mind spin. Yet India is also a mir­a­cle of con­trol. Its se­crets are still to be fully un­picked.

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