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.
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.