The Elements, Joe Henderson (Milestone, 1974)

Personnel: Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute, piano); Alice Coltrane (harp, piano, harmonium, tamboura); Kenneth Nash (spoken vocals, wood flute, congas, sakura drum, bells, gongs, percussion); Michael White (violin); Charlie Haden (bass); Ndugu Chancler (drums); Baba Daru Oshun (tabla, percussion). Recorded at Village Recorder Studio, Los Angeles CA Oct 15-17 1973

One critic began his review of this 1974 release with the following comment, ‘This is one of the odder Joe Henderson recordings’ - while the comment made me laugh, it puzzled me as this record is strikingly coherent; in its theme, the four elements (Fire/Air/Water/Earth) and the way the musicians meld together, as one commentary put it, ‘the musicians' collective genius at listening and responding to each other’.

Combining both epic, melodic expressions of spirituality and belief (see the final 13-minute piece ‘Earth’) and deconstructed musical play (found in the lively opener that I wrote 'sounds like plastic' and keeps popping unexpectedly, ‘Fire’ for example) but always, always pushed along by a musical intensity and sharp intelligence. You can still feel the energy of this music, more than four decades on from when it was first recorded and imagined.

As with any truly great Jazz record, it needs to be heard in one sitting, to allow the memory of the earlier pieces to inform your experience of what is happening now, in the present moment. I first came to this music via ‘Earth’ (seeking out anything I could find that featured Alice Coltrane) but more recently I’ve been listening to ‘Water’ on repeat. In the words of another fan of the record:

Joe does things on this album that are unlike anything else he ever did as far as the sound and tone of his sax are concerned. One example of this is the effects he uses on the third cut ‘Water’. He was able to “treat” his sax to make it sound as if it were emanating from the far depths of the ocean …

Coda: