Ascension (John Coltrane album)
|Studio album by|
|Recorded||June 28, 1965|
|Studio||Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ|
|Genre||Free jazz, avant-garde jazz|
|Length||40:49 (Edition II)|
38:30 (Edition I)
79:19 (CD release)
|John Coltrane chronology|
|The Penguin Guide to Jazz||(crown)|
|Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
|The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide|||
Ascension is a jazz album by John Coltrane recorded in 1965 and released in 1966. It is often considered to be a cornerstone of Coltrane's work, with the albums recorded before it being more conventional in structure and the albums recorded after it being looser, free jazz inspired works. In addition, it signaled Coltrane's interest in moving away from the quartet format. Coltrane described Ascension in a radio interview as a "big band thing", although it resembles no big band recording made before it. The most obvious antecedent is Ornette Coleman's octet (or "double quartet") recording, Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation, which—like Ascension—is a continuous 40-minute performance with ensemble passages and without breaks. Jazz musician Dave Liebman, commenting on Ascension, recalled that the album was the "torch that lit the free jazz thing".
Coltrane's horn section is moored to a rhythm section, centered on pianist McCoy Tyner, double bassists Jimmy Garrison and Art Davis, and drummer Elvin Jones. On Ascension (and unlike on Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz), group ensembles alternate with solos, and take up about equal space. The basic theme stated in the opening and closing ensembles is a variation on the major motif of Coltrane's earlier album A Love Supreme, recorded in December 1964, particularly the opening bass riff stated on said album's opening track, "Acknowledgment".
Coltrane gave the musicians no directions for their solos, other than that they were to end with a crescendo. The ensemble passages are more structured. There were chords, but apparently they were optional; it is more accurate to say that the ensembles consist of a progression of modes rather than chords, with mode changes signaled by Coltrane, pianist McCoy Tyner, and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. By comparison to Free Jazz, Ascension features a much expanded "front line", with two altos, three tenors, and two trumpeters.
The horn section consisted mostly of younger players, most of whom would soon attain some degree of fame on the (free) jazz scene. An exception is trumpeter Dewey Johnson, who plays the first solo of the album after Coltrane. Plagued by mental illness, Johnson never made another professional recording (he had played previously on Paul Bley's 1964 album Barrage), eventually disappearing in New York City in the 1980s. He spent his later years in Coler Specialty Hospital and Nursing Home on Roosevelt Island in New York City before passing away in 2018. Because of Johnson's obscurity, and his prominent place on the album, his solo is sometimes mistaken for Hubbard's.
Order of soloists and ensembles
Two recordings of "Ascension" exist, called Edition I and Edition II. The latter replaced Edition I (also as A-95, with "EDITION II" etched on the vinyl runout circle) some months after the original release. Both versions are available on the single-CD version released by Impulse!/Verve/Universal in 2000 and were previously available on the 1992 double-disc collection The Major Works of John Coltrane on Impulse!/GRP/MCA. 
- Edition I
"Ascension" (John Coltrane) – 38:30
- Edition II
"Ascension" (Coltrane) – 40:49
- Freddie Hubbard – trumpet
- Dewey Johnson – trumpet
- Marion Brown – alto saxophone
- John Tchicai – alto saxophone
- John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
- Pharoah Sanders – tenor saxophone
- Archie Shepp – tenor saxophone
- McCoy Tyner – piano
- Art Davis – bass
- Jimmy Garrison – bass
- Elvin Jones – drums
- Billboard Feb 5, 1966
- Allmusic review
- Cook, Richard; Morton, Brian (2008). The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings (9th ed.). Penguin. p. 291. ISBN 978-0-141-03401-0.
- All Music Guide Info and Review.
- Swenson, J., ed. (1985). The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide. USA: Random House/Rolling Stone. p. 47. ISBN 0-394-72643-X.
- "John Coltrane – Ascension (Edition II) (Vinyl, LP, Album) at Discogs". Discogs. Retrieved August 19, 2011.
- Ascension (CD insert, CD back cover). John Coltrane. Impulse. 2009. 0602517920248.