Five Favorite John Coltrane Albums: I have been reading Ashley Kahn's "biography" of the Impulse record label and since Coltrane was certainly the loadstar of that label I've been thinking about my favorite Coltrane records, not necessarily from Impulse but over his whole career.
5. Blue Train: Coltrane's sole effort for Blue Note Records (image for a minute an alternate universe where he recorded for BN instead of Impulse 'til '67... what would the music have sounded like?) He fits in perfectly to Blue Note's hard-bop esthetic and "Moment's Notice" and the title track would become famous, but there's not a bad cut on the record. Great cover photo with a blue (naturally) tinted photo of a somber but yearning young Coltrane.
4. Meditations: This album captures the Coltrane band in mid-transition from the great quartet to a larger, freer band. Pharoah Sanders howls like a channeling mystic acting as a counterweight to Coltrane who's tenor is deep and true and always in control. This is another suite of spiritual music, but unlike A Love Supreme which achieves a near state of grace, this album is infused with tension. It's tense and uncomfortable, yet the energy and sense of relentless exploration is palpable.
3. Interstellar Space: A lot of people have trouble sticking with Coltrane's recordings after A Love Supreme with the material becoming caustic and ecstatic as the quartet broke up and fellow seekers like Pharoah Sanders emerged. But Coltrane always had a tremendous rapport with drummers whether it was Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones or in this case Rashied Ali. This is a suite of music written for the planets where Coltrane and Ali lock into a deep open groove that is free, yet very accessible. This is serious and spiritual music but it's never somber. This is John Coltrane's most overlooked LP.
2. A Love Supreme: The technical genius is still here of course, but this album is all about the passion of Coltrane's religious convictions. The apex of the so-called "classic quartet" was reached with this suite, where the band stopped functioning as individuals and became cohesive and organic whole. Coltrane's searing re-entry into "Resolution" may be the most transcendent, goosebump raising moment in jazz.
1. Giant Steps: Speed kills... this album floored me when I first discovered jazz and has been at the top of my list ever since. The speed and passion of "Giant Steps" and "Mr. P.C." are stunning and the band makes it seem so fluid and easy. The beautiful melodic interplay of "Naima," "Syeeda's Song Flute" and "Cousin Mary" are a joy to behold. This is the perfect melding of technical mastery and artistic majesty.