Fifty years is a lifetime for some, but John Coltrane accomplished so much in his short life, having died at the age of 40 in 1967. On October 22, 1963, and November 2, of the same year, he was on a tour of Europe. The tapes were rolling both nights and those performances were released as a double vinyl album in 1977, a decade after his passing. Now Pablo Records, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the concerts, has re-released Afro Blue Impressions as a part of the Concord Music Group’s Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series. It also returns in an expanded form.
Coltrane was in what is considered the second phase of his career. He began as a sideman to Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk and by the early 1960s was leading his own quartet. The jazz great used what he learned from Monk and Davis as a jumping off place; he began to leave harmonic structures behind as his extended solos combined individual notes into swirling patterns. His approach was a type of free-form music, which allowed him to explore the outer edges of jazz music.
Coltrane on stage is, unsurprisingly, different from in the studio. The songs change and many are extended to give him room to explore the songs’ structures and in most cases, leave them behind.
He is accompanied by pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones. They are not so much a tight unit as they are flexible, which is perfect for Coltrane, who places his emphasis on imagination and improvisation.
The Broadway hit, “My Favorite Things,” is Coltrane at his best. The performance is extended out to beyond 20 minutes, which allows him to explore the tune’s many intricate textures and patterns. He constantly changes direction and creates a number of surprises along the way.
His own compositions, “Lonnie’s Lament,” “I Want to Talk About You,” “Spiritual,” and “Impressions” are built upon his feelings as expressed with his saxophone. The three bonus tracks, “Naima,” “I Want to Talk About You,” and a 14-minute version of “My Favorite Things” were taken from different concerts than those on the original release and provide a wonderful glimpse on how his music changes from night to night.
As with all the releases in the series, the sound is amazingly clear given the age of the original tapes. The booklet presents a nice history of the music.
John Coltrane’s music would continue to evolve, as his style would eventually leave many of the norms of jazz music behind; he would also take on a decidedly spiritual nature. Afro Blue Impressions catches him in a very settled stage in his career and while it may not be for the faint-hearted, it is a good introduction to his music.