The Olatunji Concert: The Last Live Recording, the first issue of John Coltrane’s final captured live performance, reaches an ecstatic boiling point in the free jazz movement.
During Coltrane’s late Impulse! years, the soprano and tenor saxophone player experimented with various musical elements. Trane chose to strip down his final studio recording, Interstellar Space, which consists solely of Coltrane and drummer Rashied Ali. Olatunji displays the master using all the colors in his palette.
Listening to Olatunji is like witnessing an ember shimmering bright for one moment before it is finally extinguished. Trane died only two months after the concert. Olatunji is an incredible performance, however only the first set, “Ogunde” and “My Favorite Things,” was successfully recorded at the Olatunji Center in New York on April 23, 1967. The second set, “Tunji” and “Acknowledgement,” has not survived.
After a short introduction by Billy Taylor, “Ogunde,” a traditional Afro-Brazilian folk song, begins steadily with Coltrane. Then, the rest of the septet bursts through. Trane had a deeply rooted Afrocentric sensibility. For him, jazz was a way of life; a way of rioting in his music instead of on the streets.
“My Favorite Things,” a song that catapulted Trane’s commercial career on soprano in 1960, begins with a seven-minute bass solo by Jimmy Garrison. Trane then enters with an incredible, almost frightening burst of vitality. As the song progresses, only hints of the original theme appear, in distorted, polyrhythmic sheets of sound.
With only two tracks on the entire album, both at around half an hour in length, Olatunji requires a bit of patience, yet is a must-have for all Trane fans.