Wednesday, October 26, 2005

John Coltrane: One Down, One Up Live at the Half Note (Impulse, 2005)

This release collects radio broadcasts of the classic John Coltrane Quartet with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones at the end of that great group's tenure in mid 1965. At this stage, their improvisations had grown to epic length, and some were clocking in at nearly one hour in length. These were recorded for the Portraits in Jazz radio program at the Half Note in New York City and one caveat that must be mentioned is the announcer who speaks over the music at times. Also, due to the extreme length of the performances, some songs are not presented in their complete length.

It's a little odd dropping in during a long bass solo as we enter during the midway point of the title track, but any disconcertion fades as the rest of the band joins and then launches Coltrane full blast into a monstrous twenty-five minute solo that became something of a legend amongst collectors of bootleg performances. This really is something special both in terms of the stamina involved and the amount of improvisational ideas being used. Eventually Tyner and Garrison drop out and the music becomes a breathless duet between Coltrane and Jones.

'Afro-Blue' actually sneaks in as a full-length performance. McCoy Tyner gets in an excellent solo, he was starting to feel uncomfortable with the direction of the music at this point of his tenure in the band, but he really rises to the occasion here with a thoughtful and well performed solo. Lengthy performances of Coltrane standards 'Afro-Blue' and 'My Favorite Things' are also present. The band played these compositions every night, but they always kept their improvisations fresh and the ones presented here are no exception.

The sound quality of this release is quite good. I have heard a bootleg version, and this officially released version is a definite sonic improvement. Although not perfect, this is a worthy and interesting release that is far from barrel scrapings and is well worth the time of Coltrane fans.

Send comments to: Tim