Reviewed on this page:
Tenor Conclave - John Coltrane-Paul Quinichette Quintet - Dakar - Blue Train - Lush Life - Soultrane - Bags and
Trane - Giant Steps - The Avant-Garde - Coltrane Jazz - My Favorite Things - Coltrane's Sound - Coltrane Plays The Blues - Olé Coltrane - Africa/Brass - "Live" At
The Village Vanguard - Coltrane - Ballads - Duke Ellington and
John Coltrane - John Coltrane with Johnny
Hartman - Impressions - Crescent - A Love
Supreme - The John Coltrane Quartet Plays
- Dear Old Stockholm - Transition - One Down, One Up: Live At The Half Note - Ascension - First
Meditations - Live In Seattle - Om - The Major Works of John Coltrane - Meditations -
Offering: Live At Temple University - Stellar Regions - Interstellar Space - Expression - The Olatunji Concert: The Last Live Recording
Along with Miles Davis, the dominant jazz
musician of his generation, but unlike Miles, John Coltrane died
before any career embarrassments could interfere with his legend
(the Ché Guevara of jazz). The most influential tenor sax
player in jazz history, and probably the most influential soprano
player as well, he was also a leading force in bringing
spirituality and/or mysticism (depending on your perspective) to
jazz. He was incredibly prolific during his last five years, and
Impulse continued to release first-class Coltrane recordings for
almost a decade after his death in 1967 at the age of 40. (They
even released a first class recording, Stellar Regions, in 1995.) Generally,
dates listed here are recording dates, not release dates.
Everything recorded with Coltrane as a leader is worth hearing, the
star guides are just suggestions on where to start. The star
ratings are relative within each period, so I rated
Blue Train at although I don't really think it's as
good as, say, First Meditations, because I do think it's the
early record that you should start with if you want to hear
his early sound. Also, many of his most important early
contributions were recorded with other artists as leaders, most
notably Round About Midnight (1957) and Kind Of Blue
(1959), both recorded with Miles Davis. He also appears on a few Thelonious Monk records. To add to the
confusion, some records originally recorded with Coltrane as a
sideman have been rereleased with Coltrane listed as the leader. I
haven't tried to review these because of the bewildering amount of
retitling and repackaging that's gone on. (DBW)
There's a terrific web site that's definitely worth the trip.
I've also reviewd a book about Coltrane on our Book Reviews Page.
John Coltrane Quartet was formed in April 1960 with Steve
Kuhn, piano; Steve Davis, bass; Pete LaRoca,
drums. Kuhn replaced in 1960 by McCoy Tyner. LaRoca replaced
in 1960 by Billy Higgins, who was replaced by Elvin
Jones. Davis replaced in 1961 by Reggie Workman, who was
replaced by Jimmy Garrison. Tyner, Jones and Garrison formed
the "classic quartet" that recorded many of Coltrane's most well-known recordings. Tyner replaced in late 1965 by Alice
Coltrane; Rashied Ali added on drums late 1965, Jones
left March 1966.
I'm still missing most of the records from his time as a sideman
and at Prestige.
Tenor Conclave (Four Tenor
A generation before the World Saxophone Quartet, a record with four
tenor players (Al Cohn, Hank Mobley and Zoot Sims). Otherwise, a
typical "blowing session" - jazz musicians who didn't usually work
together recording a few standards and an original or two, for
quick cash. Now that Coltrane's sound is so widely imitated, it's
interesting to hear how different he sounded from his
John Coltrane-Paul Quinichette Quintet (rec. 1957)
The tunes are by Mal Waldron (who also
plays piano here), but Coltrane and Quinichette, an underrecorded
tenor player, are spotlighted. (DBW)
Two good baritone sax players (Cecil Payne and Pepper Adams) add
interest; a solid 50's bop record, although without the distinctive
qualities of Coltrane's later output. (DBW)
Blue Train (1957)
Although he'd released a few other albums under his name, this is
in many senses Coltrane's first solo album: the first album of
mostly Coltrane originals; the first album where he picked the
personnel and the tunes beforehand, rather than just walking in off
the street and blowing on whatever tunes happened to be around. The
solo on the title blues is harsh and foreboding, and while it got
him a lot of attention much of it was negative. The tunes are
decent, though standard for the period, and his sidemen -
particularly trombonist Curtis Fuller and trumpeter Lee Morgan --
add interest and excitement. (DBW)
Lush Life (1958)
This is sort of a Coltrane record for people who don't like Coltrane:
the tunes are standards (the only Trane original, "Trane's Slo Blues," is a version of Milt
Jackson's "Bag's Groove"), and Coltrane's playing is unusually lyrical (Billy Strayhorn's
without the harsh pyrotechnics that earned him so much criticism in this period.
Another point of interest is Coltrane playing in a trio setting on the first
three tracks... his playing is so rich you'll never miss the piano. (DBW)
My favorite early Coltrane album, features his versions of "Good
Bait" and Irving Berlin's "Russian Lullaby." (DBW)
Bags and Trane (Milt Jackson
& John Coltrane: 1959)
Really an Atlantic recording, but since there are no Coltrane
compositions here (three by Milt "Bags" Jackson, the rest are
standards) and he's more like the featured soloist than co-leader,
it's more characteristic of his earlier recordings, so I'm including it in this section. Another
unrehearsed blowing session, lifted above average by Milt's
compositions (title tune, "The Late Late Blues") and vibes solos.
My CD re-release adds three bonus tracks, which aren't very inspired except for Milt's "Blues Legacy" - there is a version of "Centerpiece," later recorded by Joni Mitchell. (DBW)
The Atlantic Years
Giant Steps (1959)
A masterpiece, containing two of his most successful compositions,
the full-speed-ahead title track and the lovely, subdued ballad
"Naima." All the compositions are excellent, from "Cousin Mary" to
"Syeeda's Song Flute" to "Mr. P.C." (for Paul Chambers, not a
comment on political correctness), and the CD release is even
better, with interesting alternate takes of five tracks. (DBW)
The Avant-Garde (John Coltrane & Don Cherry: 1960)
Not really co-led, once again; the
longer compositions are by Cherry's mentor Ornette Coleman, then
there's one Cherry original and a Monk tune. Coltrane seems out of
his element; of more interest to Cherry's students than Coltrane's.
Coltrane Jazz (1960)
There are some fine originals, including "Like Sonny" and "Some
Other Blues," as well as Coltrane's experiments with saxophone
harmonics - playing more than one note at a time. "Village Blues" is
jarring here; it was recorded almost a year after the other
material on the album, and is very much in the stark style found on the later
Coltrane's Sound. (DBW)
My Favorite Things (1960)
Coltrane's energetic soprano workout on the title song (in 3/4,
then rare in jazz) made his reputation and remained one of his most
requested songs for the rest of his career. He also unleashes his
soprano on another standard, "Every Time We Say Goodbye"; Coltrane opened up a new
direction for soprano, which up to that time was limited to Sidney
Bechet-style sweet 'n' syrupy interpretations. He also reverts to tenor for a fine, extended take on the Gershwin chestnut "Summertime." (DBW)
Coltrane's Sound (1960)
Minimized backing arrangements create a lot of space here, and
contribute to a contemplative, introspective mood. Coltrane's
playing on "Equinox," "Liberia," the standard "The Night Has A
Thousand Eyes" and the CD-only "26-2" is brilliant; "Satellite"
covers the same ground as "Equinox," while "Central Park West" is
almost a rerun of "Naima." (DBW)
Coltrane Plays The Blues (1960)
Blues, yes, mostly Coltrane originals, recorded at the same sessions as Coltrane's
Sound and My Favorite Things. Trane's a heavy though somewhat abstract blues
player, and this will consistently hold your interest, particularly on the brooding
"Mr. Day" and the wild "Blues To Bechet," played on soprano.
Any fan of Trane or jazz takes on the blues should get into this,
but for me it doesn't have the emotional resonance of records like Giant Steps or
A Love Supreme. The CD has a bonus track that's not a blues, but is a fine if not
earthshaking addition to the canon. (DBW)
Olé Coltrane (1961)
By now Coltrane was moving away from traditional blues-based jazz
into lengthy, modal explorations (inspired by his work with Miles
Davis). "Olé" is one of the most successful of these modal
compositions, featuring two bass players to stunning, hypnotic
effect, and the other performances are thoughtful and entertaining.
The CD version also includes the lovely "To Her Ladyship."
The Early Impulse! Years
I should say something about the "classic" quartet: McCoy Tyner has
a singular tone on piano - as some other writer noted,
he's one of the few pianists you can identify from the first note
- intense but not bombastic, introspective but not calm, more
likely to play clustered chords than high melodic runs. A major
influence on Eddie Palmieri among
others. Elvin Jones is one of the greatest drummers you'll hear
playing any type of music, constantly playing tricky breaks and
fills while keeping a solid pulse; the main inspiration of Mitch
Mitchell, drummer for Jimi Hendrix. Both
musicians were able to go in whatever direction Coltrane was
leading and still remain uniquely themselves (at least until the
last years when both left the band). I'm just now developing an appreciation for
Jimmy Garrison; he stays in the background, and certainly didn't revolutionize his instrument the way the other quartet members did, but listen to his solo on "Jimmy's Mode" (from Stellar Regions), among others, and you'll be struck by the quality of his ideas and the virtuosity of his execution.
An experiment in full-orchestra arranging (arrangements by Eric
Dolphy). I don't find it very enlightening: the tunes (including
"Greensleeves") are familiar or familiar-sounding, and some are
quite long although they don't say much. The CD issue is a better
value, with one unreleased song and two lengthy alternate takes.
"Live" At The Village Vanguard (1961)
Apparently it's just me, but outside of the marvelous
"Spiritual," I don't find this album among Coltrane's most
essential: "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise" is an unexceptional
ballad, "Chasin' The Trane" is a long, formless blues. And for some
reason Impulse didn't add bonus tracks to the CD release (there are
fine alternate versions of "India" and "Spiritual," which I think
are available on CD only on the out of print From The Original
The first record featuring all four members of the "classic
quartet"; contains two strange versions of standards: a fourteen-minute "Out Of This
World," where Coltrane plays around with tempo and key; and "The Inch Worm," like "Favorite
Things" a masterful deconstruction of a silly tune. Also Mal
Waldron's ballad "Soul Eyes" and two great originals, "Tunji" and
"Miles' Mode." (DBW)
A bunch of pop tunes, but rather than radically reinterpreting, Coltrane's content
to play them straight, with a placid rhythm section and not much feeling. Stranger yet,
the tunes are not particularly well known or engaging: Rodgers and Hart's "It's Easy To
Remember" is hard to remember; Frank Loesser's "Say It (Over And Over Again)" is as
repetitive as you'd expect; Haggart and Burke's "What's New" is anything but.
Pleasant background music at best.
Duke Ellington and John Coltrane (1962)
This record really is co-led, despite the Duke's greater reputation
and fame (especially at the time). There are two excellent new
Ellington compositions, at a time when any new material from him
was a major event, plus some of his standards, and one new Coltrane
composition, "Big Nick." If you've never heard Duke in a quartet
setting, this record will be a revelation. (DBW)
John Coltrane with Johnny Hartman (1963)
How you feel about this record will depend on how you feel
about jazz vocalist Johnny Hartman. Coltrane is at his most
lyrical, and the quartet is in its usual high form, and unlike Ballads, the material
is high quality (Gallop and DeRose's "Autumn Serenade"; Rodgers and Hart's "You Are Too
Beautiful"). However, they're basically Hartman's backing band, and while his vocal control
is impressive ("Lush Life"), his crooning is so corny and sappy that it comes across as camp.
Impressions (rec. 1961-1963, rel. 1963)
A mish-mash: two long live tracks featuring Eric Dolphy that were
cut from Village Vanguard, paired with two later
compositions. I might as well admit that the lengthy title track doesn't do much for me,
but "India" is a fun modal piece, and the two studio recordings are a blast (the solemn
"After The Rain" with Roy Haynes on drums; the livelier "Up 'Gainst The Wall"). Some CD configurations have a bonus track, "Dear Old Stockholm," recorded at the same 1963 session as "After The Rain."
Live At Birdland (1963)
I passed over this album for decades, perhaps confusing it with some other live record. Anyway, it contains three otherwise unrecorded Coltrane originals - "The Promise," "Alabama" and "Your Lady," and if you have the right edition, "Vilia" - plus versions of "Afro Blue" and Billy Eckstine's "I Want To Talk About You," which Trane had first recorded way back in 1958.
Newport '63 (rec. 1961, 1963; rel. 1993)
The performances here are excellent but some weird choices were made in compiling the album: the version of "Impressions" here is truncated (that error is remedied on My Favorite Things: Coltrane At Newport). Instead, there's a recording of "Chasin' Another Trane" which is not from 1963 or from Newport.
There's a deeply melancholy tone on songs such as "Crescent" and
"Lonnie's Lament," offset by exuberant swinging on "Bessie's Blues"
and Elvin's impassioned "The Drum Thing."
A Love Supreme (1964)
It's not easy to describe this album without running off at the
mouth and sounding like a cult member. An album-length suite
recorded (and later, performed live) in its entirety, tracing the course of a spiritual awakening from "Acknowledgement" through "Resolution" and "Pursuance," and finally "Psalm." The coherence and emotional sweep of the work is breathtaking, as rather simple melodic ideas are stated, and then developed, with power and authority. Each member of the quartet solos at one time or another, but no one's doing their own thing: all the individual contributions are serving Coltrane's overarching vision.
(A live performance of the suite, recorded in France in 1965, is circulating on
various small labels. The sound quality is poor, and Coltrane was
dissatisfied with his performance; it's not worth getting unless
you really need to hear what the piece sounded like in concert.)
The John Coltrane Quartet Plays (1965)
Generally overlooked in discussions of Coltrane's work, this album
contains two wonderful originals, "Song Of Praise" and "Brazilia,"
and two radically reworked standards: "Chim Chim Cheree"
(from Mary Poppins) and "Nature Boy."
If you find the right CD reissue there's another standard ("Feeling Good") and one or two more takes of "Nature Boy."
New York City '65 Vol. 1 (rec. 1965, rel. 1993)
The Quartet played a string of shows at the Half Note, and this quasi-bootleg is from the March 19th appearance. Three songs: "Impressions," the recently recorded "Chim Chim Cheree," and a new original, "One Down, One Up."
One Down, One Up: Live At The Half Note (rec. 1965, rel. 2005)
A two-CD set compiled from radio broadcasts of two 1965 Quartet performances, March 26 and May 7 respectively. There are just four songs here, and two of them ("My Favorite Things" and "Afro Blue") are faded out mid-solo, so this isn't one for the casual fan. I'm not crazy about it either, because there are plenty of other recordings of "Afro Blue" and "Favorite Things," and try as I may, I can't get anything much out of the title track: Trane blazes away for twenty-seven minutes (as Tyner and Garrison each fall by the wayside), but I can't tell what he's getting at. So there's just one tune here I'm really excited by: a rapturous, nineteen-minute "Song Of Praise" that has the fervor of a revival meeting and the beauty of a, well, of something beautiful.
New York City '65 Vol. 2 (rec. 1965, rel. 1993)
Another Half Note set, this time from April 2; notable for a otherwise unheard original, officially untitled but generally known as "Creation." The transition between that high energy, barely composed, free blowing piece and the ballad "I Want To Talk About You" could hardly be more extreme.
At this point, Coltrane's discography becomes kind of messy: He recorded about ten albums of new material between May and November of 1965, most of which wasn't released until years later, and many of the tracks were haphazardly compiled into a variety of releases - most of which are now out of print - over the ensuing decades. The best way to get that stuff is on an 8-disc boxed set, The Classic Quartet, though even that is missing numerous alternate takes.
To The Beat Of A Different Drum (rec. 1963, 1965, rel. 1978)
Roy Haynes filled in for Jones again on May 26, 1965, and the session produced three songs (plus a rejected attempt at "Welcome"): the quiet, almost mellow "Dear Lord"; wild but purposeful screaming on "One Down, One Up"; and "After The Crescent," somewhere between the two. This album also contains two 1963 recordings from a different session with Haynes: "Dear Old Stockholm" and the previously released "After The Rain" - the same configuration was released on CD as Dear Old Stockholm. "Dear Lord" was originally released on Transition; an alternate take of that tune wasn't released until Classic Quartet.
Transition (rec. 1965, rel. 1970)
Perhaps the most overlooked album in the Coltrane catalog. Two long pieces recorded on June 10 express deep spirituality and move at a measured pace: "Transition" never fails to floor me, and the 21-minute "Suite" is nearly as powerful. The closest you can get to A Love Supreme Volume 2, and as with that album, these songs were rarely performed live. The original LP release overseen by Alice Coltrane contained "Dear Lord" from the previous session. A later CD issue contained "Welcome" from the same June 10 session, which had been released during Coltrane's lifetime on Kulu Sé Mama, and "Vigil"; two other June 10 recordings weren't available until 1998's Living Space: "Untitled Original 90314" and "The Last Blues."
Living Space (rec. 1965, rel. 1998)
Mostly drawn from a June session, this set points toward the high-energy, freer playing of the Ascension period (title track; "Dusk-Dawn"), far from the stately sounds of 1964. (Also on June 16, Coltrane recorded "Vigil" as a duet with Jones, and released it on Kulu Sé Mama, the only album from this era to mix quartet and large group recordings.)
Most of this session was released on the 1978 LP Feelin' Good and later on the CD Living Space.
Late Impulse! Period
The June 28, 1965 session which produced Ascension is often viewed as the dividing line between the Classic Quartet period and the final "far out" period. It's true that the larger group, longer songs, and ecstatic feel of that date are worlds away from something like "Bessie's Blues" - firmly grounded in traditional jazz - recorded just the year before, and certainly the composition of the band changed shortly thereafter, with avant-garde tenor Pharoah Sanders becoming a near-full time member and Tyner and Jones departing.
Really, though, the change was more gradual than that: Coltrane had added Archie Shepp and Art Davis to the quartet during the recording of A Love Supreme, though the sextet takes of "Acknowledgement" were ultimately rejected, and the Classic Quartet recorded some excellent work in the fall of 1965 with no additional players.
Coltrane ventures into territory initially explored by Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman, adding six horn
players and another bassist to the quartet and playing one tune (built on a five-note blues riff) for the entire album. It's not exactly collective improvisation - ensemble passages alternate with individual solos - but it sure isn't bebop, and it shocked the jazz-buying public.
He recorded two takes on the same day, initially released take two (known as "Edition I"), then changed his mind and released the first take ("Edition II") - both are now available on the same CD, so don't get shortchanged. (DBW)
My Favorite Things: Coltrane At Newport (rec. 1963, 1965; rel. 2007)
The quartet's complete appearances at Newport in 1963 and 1965 ("One Down, One Up" and "My Favorite Things").
After this appearance Coltrane took the group to Europe; recordings of several of these shows have surfaced, and at nearly all of them he played a slimmed-down version of "Ascension," generally known as "Blue Valse."
Sun Ship (rec. 1965, rel. 1971)
Recorded in one session on August 26, 1965, back in New York; this time Trane starts with a set of compositions which are minimal in the extreme
(the title track has a four-note theme, and "Amen" has only three) and leaves it up to the
quartet to figure out what he's getting at. The results are mixed: on the title track and
on the bass feature "Ascent" the group sounds unsure, as if they're grasping in the dark;
on "Amen," though, everything gels, and Tyner leads the rhythm section into some stomping
but oddly tense passages, before Coltrane comes back in his upper register, taking
everything to a higher level. "Attaining" sounds more familiar than the rest of the session,
a deep, moving blues along the lines of "Spiritual" or "Psalm."
A two-disc version, Sun Ship: The Complete Session, was released in 2013, chock full of alternate versions that weren't included on Classic Quartet.
First Meditations (rec. 1965, rel. 1977)
Just a week after cutting Sun Ship, the quartet was back in the studio. A wonderful suite made up of loosely composed short pieces ("Joy"), it
would have been a natural followup to A Love Supreme if he'd been the kind of artist to stay in a groove; instead, he shelved these takes and
rerecorded most of the tunes - with Pharoah Sanders and Rashied Ali added - as Meditations. The disc includes an alternate take of "Joy" recorded three weeks later - the latest known recording of the classic quartet. (DBW)
Live In Seattle (1965)
Coltrane took the Quartet to the West Coast, where he recorded some sessions for Impulse but others on his own dime (Ellington often did the same).
Four long improvised pieces compose this double album, with Pharoah
Sanders on tenor sax consuming an inordinate amount of solo space;
Sanders plays exclusively squeaks, squeals and honks, often without
evident purpose. If you're not a Sanders fan, you are likely to
find this overlong. On the other hand, if you're a fan of Donald Garrett, who sat in on bass and clarinet here (not bass clarinet as the liner notes originally stated), you're in luck. Note: the double-CD release, which I don't have, includes two more recognizable tunes, "Body And Soul" and "Afro-Blue." (DBW)
The Unissued Seattle Broadcast (rec. 1965)
Recorded the same day as the previous album with the same lineup. From an amateur recording of a radio broadcast, so the sound quality isn't great, but if you dig Live In Seattle check this one out. There's only one pure improvisation (which may be the same piece as that album's "Evolution"); the bulk of the session is standards: "Afro-Blue," "Lush Life" and an incomplete "My Favorite Things."
Om (rec. 1965, rel. 1968)
The least successful of Coltrane's one-tune, free-jazz experiments (reportedly recorded on acid) but has a lot of power: this record
can be used to heat your apartment on cold days. Recorded the day after the Live In Seattle set; in addition to the Quartet and Sanders, the lineup features Joe Brazil on flute, and Garrett. And chanting. Lots of chanting.
Kulu Sé Mama (rec. 1965, rel. 1967)
The final studio session of Coltrane's West Coast trip yielded two side-long pieces featuring Juno Lewis (percussion), Frank Butler (drums), Sanders, Garrett and the quartet - the last time Trane recorded with such a large ensemble. "Kulu Sé Mama (Juno Sé Mama)" is a feature for Lewis, who wrote it and performs vocals. "Selflessness" is my favorite of the late "large group" tunes, with Coltrane laying down a solemn theme before the group goes into rampaging elephants mode.
However, "Selflessness" was not selected for the version of the album released during Coltrane's lifetime (it was originally released on the 1969 LP Selflessness Featuring My Favorite Things, then Major Works, then the Expanded Edition of Kulu). Instead he included "Welcome" and "Vigil," quartet tracks recorded several months previously. I don't see how the three songs fit together as one LP but Trane clearly had definite ideas about what he was doing.
The Expanded Edition also includes two takes of "Dusk Dawn" - the second take was somehow omitted from The Classic Quartet.
The Major Works of John Coltrane (rec. 1965, rel. 1992)
Not a greatest hits, this 2-CD set collects both versions of "Ascension," "Om" and the comparatively concise "Kulu Sé Mama" and "Selflessness." When this came out it was a huge deal because Edition 1 of "Ascension" was nearly impossible to find, and I think "Om" was out of print as well; it's still a cool set but if you are into late period Trane you'll probably end up buying a more comprehensive compilation. (DBW)
I'll admit I don't enjoy this nearly as much as I do the quartet versions of these tunes (First Meditations above has every track except "The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost"), but this sextet set is the
best single example of Coltrane's direction in late 1965. Once again, Sanders is honking all over the place, and I'm not too sure what Ali's doing but it's loud. Coltrane's last known recordings with Tyner or Jones. (DBW)
Cosmic Music (John/Alice Coltrane: 1968)
In stark contrast to the prior year, Trane only made it into the studio three times in 1966, and none of the material he recorded is easy to find.
Four songs were cut on February 2, the first session to feature Alice Coltrane on piano: "Manifestation" (with Sanders prominent on piccolo) and the bluesy "Reverend King" (a rare Trane appearance on bass clarinet) were released on the posthumous Cosmic Music, which also included two tunes with her as leader - it's been out of print for years.
"Peace On Earth" and the hectic, jumpy "Leo" appeared on 1972's Infinity as overdubbed versions overseen by Alice Coltrane; an unedited version of "Peace On Earth" appeared on 1978's Jupiter Variation. As far as I know, the version of "Leo" recorded on this date has never been released without overdubs. Two further 1966 studio sessions, which included new takes of both "Leo" and "Peace On Earth," have never been released in any form. Notably, unlike so much of the material he wrote and recorded during these years, both those compositions went directly into the group's live repertoire.
Live At The Village Vanguard Again! (1966)
Side-long versions of two songs: "Naima" and "My Favorite Things." Revisiting such big hits was either a way to reassure listeners who were thrown by Ascension, or to reinforce the point that his approach had changed for good: "Naima" starts out gently enough, but soon Sanders enters screaming, and you know you're not in 1959 anymore.
Percussionist Emanuel Rahim supplements Ali.
Last Performance At Newport 1966 (rec. 1966)
A gray-market release, with "Welcome," "Leo" and "My Favorite Things."
Live In Japan (rec. 1966, rel. 1973-4)
Two complete July 1966 Tokyo dates, with both Coltranes, Sanders, Garrison and Ali. Just six songs fill four CDs: The shortest tune is 25 minutes ("Peace On Earth," performed twice) while most run nearly an hour ("Crescent"; "My Favorite Things"), so make sure your attention span is dialed all the way up. By now you've probably figured out that I'm not much of a Sanders fan, and there's a lot of him here, but there are also extended solos from Garrison and Alice Coltrane that are well worth hearing. The tour of Japan is noteworthy because Yamaha gave altos to both Sanders and Trane, who duly played them at the shows although neither of them normally played alto.
If this does it for you, you can dig up a less-than-legit recording of a show at Kobe on the same tour.
Offering: Live At Temple University (rec. 1966, rel. 2014)
A two-CD set recorded in November 1966. Garrison wasn't at the show, making this the first Coltrane recording in many years without any members of the classic Quartet; local bassist Sonny Johnson filled in. Other guests include Arnold Joyner and Steven Knoblauch on alto sax, and Algie DeWitt, Robert Kenyatta and Umar Ali on percussion. Overall it's roughly similar to the Japan recordings, featuring many of the same tunes ("Leo," "Crescent," "My Favorite Things") but relatively compact and even more chaotic - the solemn title track, which was recorded in the studio in early 1967, is in striking contrast to the rest.
Stellar Regions (rec. 1967, rel. 1995)
A complete session, long believed lost until Alice Coltrane located a box of tapes in the early 90s. In early 1967 (as in the summer of 1965), John Coltrane
was moving so fast he didn't bother to fully document his new
ideas: the only track from this session he authorized for release
was "Offering," also found on Expression. But every single
take here was successful, and taken together it's an important
break with the Sanders-dominated, collective improvisation sound of
late 1965 and 1966. The lineup is the quartet, and the tunes are
distinctly structured. On several tunes here, he manages to
compress the dramatic build-ups, tension, release and denoument of
A Love Supreme into a few minutes: "Stellar Regions," "Sun
Star," "Offering." Elsewhere he plays with a ferocious intensity
that's stunning, straight through to an abrupt ending (both takes
of "Tranesonic," "Configuration"). "Iris" has a long intricate
melody that recalls Monk, but is clearly Coltrane's. Garrison pulls out all the stops on his featured solo piece
("Jimmy's Mode"), Alice Coltrane contributes an effective,
intelligent solo on the atmospheric "Seraphic Light." All three
alternate takes are interestingly different from the "best" takes.
Anyone interested in Coltrane or modern jazz in general should snap
this up. (DBW)
Interstellar Space (rec. 1967, rel. 1974)
Four duets between Coltrane and Ali (one extra tune on the CD
release), and the lack of bass and piano result in freer
improvisations than ever; "Venus" is strangely beautiful, like
nothing else you'll ever hear. (DBW)
Coltrane's last authorized release is curiously calm, and the recordings have an eerie beauty unlike his other late work (title track; "Ogunde," based on a Yoruba melody). "Offering" does build to a furious peak, but then winds down to a misty piano-led coda.
Coltrane's first and only recorded flute performance, "To Be," is touching despite his technical limitations, though it is longwinded. Sanders adds flute and piccolo on that tune; otherwise the backing is Alice Coltrane, Garrison and Ali.
The CD version has one extra track, "Number One," previously released on Jupiter Variation - Number Two and Numbers Four through Eight were recorded at a March 29 session but remain unissued. (Apparently the Coltrane family has lots of session tapes a la Stellar Regions but has been unable to agree on terms with Impulse.)
The Olatunji Concert: The Last Live Recording (rec. 1967, rel. 2001)
Heck, if I had Coltrane's last performance on tape, I'd want to release it too, but make sure you don't buy this unless you're already on board. This was a benefit concert performed in April by a sextet including Algie DeWitt (on bata drum) and Sanders. The sound quality is uneven (DeWitt's inaudible), but not terrible.
In style it's completely unlike the 1967 studio recordings, harking back to the chaotic free atmosphere of '65 and '66, with Ali banging away like crazy and Sanders squealing like, well, like Sanders ("Ogunde").
There are just two songs and neither is identifiable except in spots; bridging the two is a lengthy Garrison solo, which was never my favorite part of a Trane set. But Coltrane's impassioned, frantic soprano solo on "My Favorite Things" makes the whole enterprise worthwhile - while he's playing, at least.
Ready for ascension?