Go Hawaii – Casino Versus Japan
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.