Another Side of John Coltrane
John Coltrane’s spiritual quest occupied the second half of his recording career and is impossible to not hear and feel through every note squeezed from his soul as he takes jazz in his hands and blows so hard as to make several new genres within each song.
But before he was off and out on his own and searching for his soul he was a sideman. And most trusted sideman. Cutting his teeth with other greats, lending his mellifluous tone to Miles Davis and Art Taylor and Thelonious Monk and Red Garland and Sonny Rollins.
The music collected here is not new – but it’s never sounded this good. Many of these songs I remember as scratchy transfers to the first – and worst – CDs. Tape hiss galore and though you could feel something through that you couldn’t always ‘hear’ much. So to have this music as cleaned up as it can be but with soul still intact is really something. Also it’s a one-stop shop sampler that caps the early, early years of Coltrane billowing out those sheets of sound.
We open, wisely, with Tenor Madness. A quarter-hour of Sonny Rollins and Coltrane in good-natured jostling, a cutting-heads contest taped for the record and turned into a song. They flurry their way through the streets of sound, sashaying here, swaying there and all budging and braying in hold for the final sprint. It’s forever glorious.
The Miles tunes are many and move from the ballads (‘Round Midnight) to brush-led bop (Oleo) and the dizzying stomp of Airegin.
Tadd Dameron’s gorgeous Soultrane is a vehicle for John’s gloriously rounded and full tenor.
And I’ve always loved Coltrane’s bare but beautiful accompaniment for Thelonious on Monk’s Mood; this is a masterclass in waiting, holding space, knowing when and how to fill the room and for how long.
I love the latter half of Coltrane’s career – the God-Shronk Sax-Shred. I love it. It fills my heart and soul to bursting. But I’ve also been a fan of his milder, earlier years. You of course do get to hear him strike out – an alt take here of Monk’s Epistrophy has Coltrane on fire. And that’s just one example. But part of the magic was always going back and hearing those earlier sideman years. The disciple. The apprentice. The study being done. The work. It was forming. The ideas were falling into place. And though no one is ego-less, the young JC was there to serve the work. There to learn.
Some days there’s just no one better on this earth to listen to. Some days it’s almost hard to fathom he walked this earth. Gone for much longer than he was ever here. And the best of his music fills your ears in a way that it is almost hard to articulate. But the very best of the starting points are assembled here. And if you’re a fan you’ll have heard much of this before – but it won’t have sounded this clear. And this is also a great little introductory sampler to pass on to the friend in your life that doesn’t know his truth just yet.