Condemned by many critics as John Coltrane's worst album, Om suffers only in comparison to the great works that preceded it. Also issued in 1965, Ascension had stunned the jazz world with the blunt force of its innovation -- a swirling maelstrom of noise, it was an answer to the challenge that had been posed by Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz several years earlier. For all the sonic assault that Pharoah Sanders and Coltrane mustered up on Ascension, however, it contained some surprisingly clear solos and had the feel of a well-thought-out interplay between all of the musicians on the date, including classic quartet members Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison, and McCoy Tyner. Om, in contrast, seems more like a pure release of energy. Expressions of sanity and organization by the rhythm section seem detached from the wall of sound that Sanders and Coltrane have erected. The best moments come when Coltrane breaks away from Sanders for solos -- echoes of Love Supreme can be heard in the repetitive, circular themes. Regardless of its seeming chaos, this is a deeply spiritual work, and can be seen as a darker, more unhinged version of the invocations heard on that album. Indeed, Om resonates with passion and yearning, but has a frantic edge that suggests that opening up to all of that powerful spiritual energy might have been a frightening experience. The music isn't perfect, as the thematic flow sometimes seems a bit segmented, and talented members of the band are relegated a little too far to the background (like McCoy Tyner, who nevertheless has a beautiful short solo around 13:30). Regardless, Om doesn't deserve the dismissal it has been given by critics. It is an important work in the history of free jazz that opens up considerably by the end of its 29 minutes, revealing the expansive contents of a jazz master's mind.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Stacia Proefrock