By Dan McQuade
By Brian McManus
By Hilary Hughes
By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
You can buy your Coltrane in bulk these days, and maybe you should. Not just for completists, boxes likeThe Prestige Recordings , Atlantic/Rhino'sThe Heavyweight Champion, and Impulse'sThe Classic Quartet assist in tracking their subject's path from '50s journeyman to '60s avatar. But facsimiles and expanded editions do the job almost as well, plus they're more affordable and beginner-friendly, and they channel the lure of vinyl originals by miniaturizing the look. You're missing the story with best-ofs.
This sideman date with star-crossed bebop pianist and composer Tadd Dameron might not be as essential as the ones with Miles and Monk you hardly need me to recommend. But I promise you'll fall for "On a Misty Night," Coltrane's most lyrical and dancing recorded solo to that point.
Cattin' With Coltrane and Quinichette
Compare and contrast: Already stacking chords and subdividing bebop's basic eighth-note unit, Coltrane could be playing twice as fast as Prez devotee Quinichette, even when the rhythm section supplies the same tempo for both.
Folks who were there say the somber and careening blues title track was the first recorded performance to approach the rigorous explorations Coltrane was by then routinely mesmerizing nightclub audiences with. And his closing flourish on "Slow Dance," a luscious melody by the forgotten Bernstein protégé Alonzo Levister, shows that "Naima"'s melody was on his mind long before Giant Steps.
The Ultimate Blue Train
[1957, Blue Note]
Although '50s wisdom had it the difference between Blue Note and Prestige was a day of paid rehearsal, Blue Note's real edgeand the reason Coltrane, until then seemingly no composer, suddenly blossomed forth with "Moment's Notice" and the looming title trackwas in allowing musicians to retain their publishing. In this case, it may be no more than the reunion with Philly Joe Jones, the drummer most in sync with him before Elvin. Having Lee Morgan as a foil doesn't hurt, either. The CD-ROM material congratulates you on your good taste in making this purchase.
[1958, Blue Note]
Originally issued as Cecil Taylor's Hard Driving Jazz, it doesn't work as well as it might have, for which blame sidemen unsympathetic to the pianist. But like the 1954 session by Miles and Monk that produced both "Bags' Groove" and a fistfight, this is one of those instances in which tension proves its own reward.
The year of Kind of Blue and Ornette Coleman's Five Spot debut was also the year of Coltrane's tour de force on the changes of . . . they speed by so quickly no one's ever been sure if "Giant Steps" is derived from Tin Pan Alley or a Nicolas Slominsky exercise. Only Charlie Parker's "Ko Ko" presages its dazzle and profundity.
[1960 (1966), Atlantic]
This romp with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Ed Blackwell provides the only clue we have of what Coltrane might have sounded like sitting in with Ornette. Coltrane adds another dimension, going for the harmony that isn't there.
My Favorite Things
Coltrane's greatest hitthough pianist McCoy Tyner is the quartet member who takes to modes as if born seesawing between major and minor.
[1960 (1964), Atlantic]
Late-released leftovers. "Equinox," a two-chord vamp stretched to the breaking point, shouldn't have had to wait. Nor should a "Body and Soul" that rivals Coleman Hawkins's. It's the first one I bought, and it proved addictive.
The Complete Africa/ Brass Sessions
[1961 (1995), Impulse]
The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings
[1961 (1997), Impulse]
This four-CD box, which expands the original LP with material from Impressions and the vaults, isn't the only live Coltrane you'll ever need, but its three epic versions of "Chasin' the Trane" are a good start. Plus generous helpings of Eric Dolphy, Coltrane's musical soulmate and very nearly his match.
Coltrane (Deluxe Edition)
"The Inch Worm" shows Coltrane wasn't above fishing for another modal, three-quarter-time novelty hit. But the reasons for buying this now are the gorgeous "Soul Eyes" and a shattering "Out of This World."
Live at Birdland
It's the one with "Alabama," his famous requiem for four little girls killed in a church bombing that summersomething of a ringer for being recorded in the studio. The concert highlight is "I Want to Talk About You," a ballad with an extended cadenza as searing and inventive as any of Coltrane's uptempo adventures.
Coltrane performed a mitzvah by reviving the career of a neglected crooner, while casting himself in the unfamiliar (but not altogether unlikely) role of obbligatist. As perfect as Lester Young with Billie Holiday, andassuming a certain level of taste and sophisticationstill a potent first-date aphrodisiac. Or so I'm told.
Simultaneously a ballad album, a darkly ruminative suite, and a subtle exercise in reconfiguring Latin rhythms into a rubato three-against-four (though not billed as any of those things), this has been a favorite of conservatives from Martin Williams to Wynton Marsalis, who regard it as Coltrane's quartet peak. Only what's coming up next stops me from going that far.