Revisiting Impulse

Published June 21, 2006 5:30PM (EDT)

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the effective end of the legendary jazz label Impulse as an entity in its own right (it was sold to MCA in 1976). The milestone was recognized recently with the simultaneous release of "The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records," Ashley Khan's attractive history of the label for Norton books, as well as Impulse's release of a four-CD box-set sampler and a series of single-disc compilations devoted to label luminaries such as Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane. The book is lovingly put together, with lots of pictures and reminiscing by the major figures attached to the label. The only complaint might be that Khan treads a little too lightly on some thorny topics; chiefly, that most of the money was going to the white owners while the African-American artists often struggled to get paid, an unfortunately common music biz story.

While Impulse was also home to recordings by Duke Ellington and Ray Charles, it remains best known for the fiery and passionate work done in the mid- to late '60s by jazz avant-gardists such as Coltrane, Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders. This kind of stuff isn't for the faint of heart; in fact, don't be surprised if the ecstatically wailing saxophones and furious percussion send your friends running out of the room. But these new releases provide the perfect opportunity to get acquainted (or reacquainted) with what is, for my money, the closest modern music has come to invoking the sublime. Check out this NPR story for more about the book as well as audio clips from the box set.

-- David Marchese

By Salon Staff

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