Written by Fumo Verde
The stars of Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane were on the rise during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s but it wasn't until recently that jazz musicians and fans have truly realized the impact that these two men had on contemporary jazz. Plus 4 featuring Rollins and Traneing In by Coltrane are two of the finest examples of art in motion, or at least the sound of motion.
First, a glance at Plus 4. This CD features Rollins on tenor sax along with Clifford Brown on trumpet (except track #4), Richie Powell on piano, George Morrow on bass, and Max Roach on drums. It contains five tracks with 32 minutes of swinging jazz, from “Valse Hot” right through to “Pent-Up House.”
Not since Monk had interpreted “Carolina Moon” could anyone else successfully grasp the idea of a jazz-waltz, yet Rollins does it with “Valse Hot.” He makes a waltz feel like you're dancing through the clouds, climbing and reaching with every note. Rollins likes to take notes and stretch them for all they are worth then puts them back all hot and wet. This sweet eight-minute jewel is followed by Sam Coslow’s “Kiss and Run.” The liner notes say that Rollins does more running than kissing in his version, and you can tell that to be a fact as soon as the song starts. Once again his tenor sax is jetting up and down the scales, pulling and pushing on every note in his path. That's Rollins; like our never-ending universe, he is always expanding and stretching forward.
“I Feel A Song Coming On” is another freight train rolling down the tracks at break-neck speed. Rollins and Brown square off for a duel of reed vs. brass as the drums, piano, and bass scurry around to get the best seat in the house to watch the brawl. This song’s energy and drum solos by Roach make it my favorite off the album.
Like a super-nova, Plus 4 gets the feet tapping and the heart jumping. Even “Count Your Blessing Instead Of Sheep,” which has a slower tempo than all the others, still gives Rollins the opportunity to push the architecture of how to utilize a tenor sax in a traditional jazz band. To me, I feel that Sonny Rollins is the spirit and the heart of the tenor sax. The tenor sax has a mind and a soul too; it goes by the name of John Coltrane.
Traneing In is another incredible drop of water in the river of music that ran out of John Coltrane. Like Rollins, Coltrane fundamentally changed the way the tenor sax was used in jazz bands, and this is one of those albums that highlight this fact. It is comprised of Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, Arthur Taylor on drums, and Coltrane with blueprints for a new era in jazz.
On the title track, Coltrane brings it on strong with a twelve-and-a-half minute jam. The mind of Coltrane takes over here, giving the voice of the sax room to breath, to think about where to flow to next. Coltrane runs the scales also, but with slight pauses before jumping to the next note or two, the anticipation of what follows gives the song its cleverness.
It is followed by “Slow Dance,” which opens with Chambers tickling the bass chords, bringing in a softness that allows Coltrane to cry out this song’s soul with the utmost tenderness. Timing is everything, and Coltrane knows when to let it out and when to keep it in. After a sweet, slow solo, Coltrane lets Garland, Chambers, and Taylor take the wheel of the car and follow the route in their own direction, but not for too long.
“Bass Blues” follows, and you would think that the tempo and rhythms would be similar; well, think again. Coltrane gives a jump-start to it by revving up his sax and letting some steam out. Again, he thinks before he steps, and by doing this, he raises the level of play amongst the other musicians.
Does it matter that Rollins has only three original compositions on Plus 4 and that Coltrane has only two on Traneing In? No, because any artist can translate any song, and though the song remains the same, the feeling and images the music brings about will always reflect the musician playing it. On these albums Coltrane and Rollins create from the experiences they have accumulated over their travels. The wisdom gained through other musicians, such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, and Coleman Hawkins and from each other, allowed Coltrane and Rollins to reconfigure how jazz sax should and could be played. They did it with different styles of play, but no matter how you look at it these two men were the pioneers of their time.
These two CDs are a history of how and when John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins started to rearrange the sounds of the tenor sax. Plus 4 and Traneing In are two very different CDs by two very different musicians who showed the world that anything is possible.