Download (8)Kevin Laskey at Music and Literature:

The ways in which Ayler and Coleman obliquely reference and evoke John Coltrane’s musical style, without becoming subservient to it, can be conceived of as a two-way conversation between the living and the legacy of the deceased—a form of virtual signifyin(g). As Henry Louis Gates, Jr. describes in it his seminal book The Signifying Monkey, “signifyin(g)” is an African-American rhetorical trope that plays the semantic meaning and spoken inflection of words off each other for a particular effect. A classic example is the use of a negative word with a positive inflection, as a kind of compliment. That kind of interaction is deeply embedded in jazz performance and culture, particularly in the ways through which different musicians interact with each other, simultaneously trying to fit in with the other players while still articulating a unique personal voice.

Not only do the evocations of Coltrane’s musical style in Ayler’s and Coleman’s improvisations show these soloists commenting on Coltrane’s music; rather, they also show Coltrane “actively” commenting back on them. In Coleman’s performance, for instance, the way he introduces the sheets-of-sound idea and motivic development, seemingly out of nowhere, creates the sense that Coleman and Coltrane are playing together and feeding off each other. Both players are trading licks back and forth, constantly responding to and commenting on what has just been played. During the especially Coltrane-esque moments of Coleman’s improvisation, one can imagine him responding to a particularly potent Trane lick, attempting to fend off the musical barb and pull the group improvisation back toward more congenial blues-inflected territory.

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