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The Gig: Flying Lotus’ Electric Dreams

Is his "You're Dead!" a corrective or an anomaly?

Flying Lotus
John Coltrane

Jazz discourse often boils down to a narrative of progress. We talk about our art form moving forward, evolving, finding new ground. There’s a lot of sense in that approach but also a few pitfalls, as I like to remind myself from time to time. This fall I needed no reminder, owing to the contiguous release of two extraordinary albums made almost half a century apart: Offering: Live at Temple University (Resonance/Impulse!), a John Coltrane concert recording from 1966, and You’re Dead! (Warp), the latest opus from the electronic musician and producer known as Flying Lotus.

What struck me about these albums wasn’t just the music (though yes, it’s beyond striking in each case) but the commentary around their releases, which hit on a familiar note of progressivism. The odds are better that you’ve heard about the Coltrane album, whether or not you’ve actually heard it. Given the hurtling-meteor quality of the saxophonist’s mature career, and the fact that Offering was made a mere eight months before his death at 40, it’s no wonder so many reviewers got caught up in hypotheticals, musing about where he might have headed next. “What if Jazz Giant John Coltrane Had Lived?” read the headline to a piece by Ted Gioia on the website The Daily Beast. The novelist and critic Geoff Dyer, writing in The New York Review of Books, sniffed that this ecstatic, unruly music embodied “the momentum of what [Coltrane had] done before-and a situation he’d helped to create-carrying him towards a terminus, a brick wall, a dead-end or, in the cosmic scheme of things, some kind of interstellar void.”

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