Tag Archives: John Coltrane

John Coltrane – Both Directions At Once

22 Jul

A little historical context is probably worthwhile for this album. In 1963, John Coltrane was still fresh off the breakout success of My Favorite Things, which was the rare jazz album to have major crossover appeal, but had yet to create A Love Supreme, the magnificent distillation of self that is possibly his magnum opus and is unquestionably flawless. Somewhere in that year, Trane and his classic quartet recorded this session only to have it be lost for decades when Impulse! Records recorded over the master tape. A copy of that tape that had been held by Juanita Naima Coltrane was recently discovered and assembled by his son into Both Directions At Once

History aside, it is an absolutely excellent album. It’s much rougher than the full albums released around this time and a large part is multiple takes on the same theme, but it has so many ideas in there that it would be ridiculous to complain. However, between the roughness and the pace, this album can be exhausting to listen to. It may not be as challenging as his later work, but it’s still no walk in the park.

The effort is deeply rewarding though. The alternate takes of “Impressions” are fascinating and the solos there are sublime. Coltrane’s are naturally excellent, but the rhythm section of “Impressions Take 4” is also worth noting for the intriguing textures that they lay down. The different takes on “Untitled Original 11386” are similarly compelling. The themes of “Take 2” are felt throughout the album, but are more than good enough to sustain the space given to them. The playfulness of “Take 5” is wonderful. It goes to places that are completely unexpected and finds neater ways to return than should be possible.

Additionally, the more approachable “Slow Blues”, “Nature Boy” and “Villa” are all excellent. This was a period in which Trane was looking for a follow-up to the success of “My Favorite Things” and his reimaginings of the latter two are solid attempts. “Nature Boy” does much in the same space, taking the Nat King Cole classic to sounds as unexpected as they are apt, but doesn’t quite manage the accessibility or the ingenuity of “My Favorite Things”. Nevertheless, they are both well worth the time. “Slow Blues” in particular fills its eleven and a half minutes with ideas while maintaining a surprising amount of cleanliness and friendliness.

This is not Coltrane’s strongest work by any stretch and it would have benefited from the polish that an actual release would have had, but these complaints only hold water due to the brilliance of Coltrane’s best work. By any reasonable standard though, this album is a work of astounding quality and invention. This was very simply a genius in his prime and to get another album like this is a gift you would have to be foolish to ignore.

@murthynikhil

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John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman – John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman

11 Feb

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John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman is that rare jazz album that is not only a classic, but is very approachable as well. Johnny Hartman has a rich, warm voice that draws you close to the album and John Coltrane focuses completely on the sound, getting a perfect, luxurious tone throughout. Their interplay and that of their rhythm section is fantastic. Solos flow into each other effortlessly and the backing music sets a loose, fluid structure for the solos to work in. The music takes no effort to get into, but is nevertheless one of the great jazz vocal albums. This is essential for all fans of the genre and a great starting point for those who are not.

@murthynikhil

John Coltrane: Olé Coltrane

12 Aug

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Coltrane’s final album under Atlantic, the studio where My Favorite Things and Giant Steps were recorded, Olé Coltrane is an often-overlooked album, which while not as impossibly good as, say A Love Supreme, is still an undeniable masterpiece.

The entire album stretches for four tracks; Olé, Dahomey Dance, Aisha and the bonus track To Her Ladyship. “Olé” is excellent, holding an energetic performance from the rhythm section over the entire eighteen minutes. There are plenty of Spanish sounds from the horn, rather reminiscent of the seminal Sketches of Spain, which was recorded a year before by Coltrane’s old bandleader Miles Davis. Eric Dolphy shines on this track with good playing throughout and a standout solo midway through. Coltrane’s playing in this album is everything that is signature about him. His frantic yet meticulously placed notes seem as though they are the saxophonist himself telling you what he feels you should know, and although it cannot flow fast enough, every word falls perfectly into place. Then, just as you are reaching your peak, he slides you back into the chorus. This crosses music, this crosses conversation, this is magic.

From here, we go to the much less challenging “Dahomey Dance”, which nevertheless starts excellently. The rhythm here keeps you moving, holding up to the dance music it derives from. An interesting base line sneaks around the quite good, if not quite inspired horn playing that holds the foreground.

“Aisha” though is just beautiful. There is no other word for music like this or Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat“. Every single note is exactly where it should be. Nothing is out of place. Nothing is superfluous. Everything is perfect.

The bonus track of “To Her Ladyship” is a strong inclusion, featuring an excellent performance from Dolphy on the flute again and a very solid conclusion. However, the rhythm often feels dissonant, and the track as a whole is certainly the weakest of the album.

Verdict: Should you get this album? The answer is always yes, but if you are new to Jazz, then Davis’s Sketches of Spain would make a much easier starting point and if you are new to Coltrane, then A Love Supreme, My Favorite Things and Giant Steps are all better albums, of which My Favorite Things is the most approachable. However, even if it takes you some time to get to this album, once you do, it will reward you immensely.

– Nikhil

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