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John Coltrane: A Discography and Musical Biography by Yasuhiro Fujioka, with Lewis Porter and Yoh-ichi Hamada

Though these three books center on players whose lives and music are interconnected in various ways, they are dramatically different in focus and style. The first is a discography, the second a detailed tour through a man’s philosophy and music, the third a chronology of a musical community.

The Coltrane discography is a magnificent achievement. It should be the standard of excellence against which all future discographies are compared for comprehensiveness, ease of use and visual attractiveness. Fujioka’s team has listed all known U.S., European, Japanese and Korean issues of Coltrane’s music, in every recording format. They base their work on David Wild’s fine discography of the 1970s and early 1980s, but add much information that has surfaced since then (additional recording dates, additional takes from known recording dates, information on how some Miles Davis recordings were spliced together, and so on). The excellently reproduced photos (many of them full page) and the small reproductions of about 700 album covers offer a strong visual impact. I cannot begin to do justice to this important work in a brief review; anyone interested in discography and/or Coltrane should consider buying it.

Mike Heffley, a trombonist who has performed with Anthony Braxton, is passionately devoted to Braxton’s music. He also shares his musical hero’s love of using graphics to represent concepts and compositions, and of flowery metaphor-filled language to describe them. Heffley devotes the first 200 pages to musings about history from ancient Egyptian times to the present, and to an explanation of books and liner notes written by Braxton. In the second half he discusses the music, with separate chapters devoted to solo, duet, trio, quartet and large ensemble recordings, each organized chronologically. I question the value of including preliminary notes taken while listening to the solo recordings, and I wish some of the prose were leaner. But fans of this music will enjoy this latest addition to the growing Braxton bibliography.

Sweet’s book is a history of the Creative Music Studio, a community of musicians who studied, taught and performed world music. It was founded in 1971 by pianist/vibraphonist Karl Berger, who established its long-term home in Woodstock, New York. During its 13-year existence students from all over the world came to this rural community and expanded their musical and aesthetic consciousness under the tutelage of Berger, Ed Blackwell, Anthony Braxton, Don Cherry, Jack DeJohnette, Trilok Gurtu, Dave Holland, Lee Konitz, Oliver Lake, Babatunde Olatungi, Leo Smith, Cecil Taylor, Nana Vasconselos, and many others. Sweet was a student deeply moved and impressed by his experiences. Drawing upon the often vivid reminiscences of many teachers and students, he has written a captivating book that is clearly the easiest read of the three under discussion here.

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