The John Coltrane Quartet Plays came at a very interesting time in the bandleader’s career. It was the follow-up to his landmark A Love Supreme (both 1965), and preceded another landmark, Ascension (1966). It may represent a small step back from the maelstrom, but not much. This is definitely a strong part of the amazing string of albums he released in the final two years of his life.
First of all, the players on the album are among the finest he ever worked with. This is the classic quartet of McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums). There is one unusual addition to the quartet, the added bass of Art Davis to “Nature Boy,” making it a “dueling basses” type of thing.
The album opens with “Chim Chim Cheree” from the Walt Disney film Mary Poppins. Coltrane’s version of “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music was an instant classic, and perhaps he thought lightning might strike twice. “Chim Chim Cheree” is interesting, but there was something about the melody of “My Favorite Things” that lent itself to his improvisational style. Keep in mind however that a potentially four out of five-star rating for John Coltrane is a five-star rating for anyone else. “Chim Chim Cheree” may not be absolutely brilliant, but it is brilliant nontheless.
Side one of the original Impulse! LP closed with the 12:56 “Brazilia.” This is an interesting track, and I have to wonder why he titled it as he did. There is no discernable Latin feel or anything to it, but in the end, that is academic. This is the longest cut on the record, and shows the band off very well. Although critics have said that Coltrane “changed” jazz, I find that a funny statement when listening to a song like this. The hard-bop element is undeniable, and that is where all four of these guys came from. Sure, the solos are a bit different from what came before, but the structure is not at all. I love the way Coltrane and Tyner played together, and “Brazilia” is a great example of the reasons why. Prime ‘Trane.