Monday, December 24, 2007


45:33 leaked sometime in October of 2006, and at the time, apart from the first twenty minutes, I didn’t bother (that is, didn’t have the attention span) to listen to the other twenty-five minutes. Year to date, I’ve only listened to it twelve times, in most cases not all the way through.

John Coltrane’s Ascension comes in at two listens. While the two albums both share the extended play times, 45:33 and Ascension are also alike in their stylistic ambition. The improvisational digressions of Coltrane’s ensemble set the stage for a break from the formalism of the music sheet, creating an unsettling dissonance throughout but ultimately producing a compelling and weighty aesthetic and narrative synthesis. There are times when the trumpet and saxophone solos seem willfully aimless, and in many respects they are, but the overall progression is one of both adventurousness and viruosity.

Likewise, the later third of 45:33, which is preceded by, most notably, a trio of trumpets and frenetic synths that eventually crescendo, seems equally to be in many different places at once and thus, in the end, nowhere. Too many elements are layered on, one after the other, into a kind of micro-produced seizure. An aggressive, reverberating bass line, over-processed and digitally distorted vocals, a skittering drum kit and a constricted piano cycle go on for what seems like forever, only to effervesce beautifully into droning electronic organs and cascading chimes. And this isn’t even the most strikingly powerful sequence on 45:33, of which more later.

Although 45:33 and Ascension are of different times (Ascension was recorded in 1965), one could argue that James Murphy’s 45:33 is in some modest way informed by, and indebted to, Coltrane’s free jazz lodestar—if it isn’t most obviously indebted to Manuel Gottsching’s electronic landmark E2-E4.

6:43 to 17:10 on 45:33 are epochal minutes, minutes that would underwrite my musical and personal excursions in 2007 and set a standard that I will doubtless look back on.

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