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Music Review: John Coltrane – Coltrane

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Coltrane from 1957 is John Coltrane’s first recording as a band leader. It is something of a mixed bag, but this has more to do with his choice of sidemen more than anything else.

‘Trane had just left the Miles Davis Quintet (for the first time) to join Theolonius Monk for a legendary residency at the Five Spot in New York. With Monk, Coltrane “found” his voice, and recorded Coltrane shortly afterward.

The original album contains but six tracks, four in the hard bop style of the day and two ballads. Coltrane opens with “Bakai,” (which means “cry” in Arabic) and is an interesting choice. Not only is it the longest cut on the record, but it is also the most rhythmically challenging.

“Violets For Your Furs” is one of the ballads, and is enchanting. Coltrane’s ballad style was well developed by this point, and Red Garland’s piano solo complements the tune perfectly.

Some serious hard bop kicks in with the following two cuts, “This Was,” and “Straight Street.” On “This Was” Coltrane again trades solos with Garland, and Paul Chambers’ bass is a highlight as well.

The first John Coltrane composed track to appear is “Straight Street,” and some 50 years later the true origins of the song's title has been revealed. It addresses the rehab center he had recently come out of, finally kicking heroin.

“While My Lady Sleeps” is the second ballad of the record, and like “Violets” it is a beautiful piece of music. Impulse has had a compilation titled Ballads out for years. I wish Prestige would put together a stand alone collection of his ballads as well. Some of Coltrane’s finest playing is contained on these songs.

“Chronic Blues” wraps things up, and exposes some of the questionable choices of sidemen Coltrane chose to record with. Baritone saxist Sahib Shihab is the most egregious example. His playing is really not up to par, which is painfully obvious when he takes a solo. Johnny Splawn’s trumpet is a bit weak as well, although it is less noticeable in the mix.

The fact that John Coltrane’s career as a band leader would be over forever just ten years after this was recorded is remarkable. Or rather the distance he traveled in the ensuing decade is remarkable.

It is one of the many reasons Coltrane is worth hearing. 

 

Coltrane is another in the RVG Remasters series, in which original recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder has gone back to the masters for restoration.  The result is an incredibly vibrant sounding disc.

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