Saturday, March 05, 2011

John Coltrane - The Very Best of John Coltrane (Atlantic, 2000)

The title may be something of a misnomer, but it does make for a nice introduction for the neophyte into the sometimes overwhelming discography of saxophonist and composer John Coltrane. After a long period of apprenticeship during the 1950's, playing with icons like Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis, Coltrane struck out on his own in 1959 signing a contract with Atlantic Records, where he would remain for the next eighteen months. This disc introduces the listener to some of Coltrane's most well known performances of the period beginning with the famous composition "Giant Steps" that shows the amazing speed and facility with which he had developed his technique. Coltrane had an unexpected "hit" with his version of the popular song "My Favorite Things" which introduced the world to his development on the soprano saxophone. The hypnotic nature of the improvisation was something Coltrane would continue to explore for the remainder of his career, and shows how the inspiration for the most exploratory jazz can come from the most unlikely places. Another track that shows how Coltrane was trying to break through into new and uncharted areas of improvisation was the band's epic re-working of the Gershwin standard "Summertime." The tenor saxophone anthem "Body and Soul" is the final track of the album and it is fascinating to compare Coltrane's modernized version to the infamous version cut by Coleman Hawkins a generation before. Coltrane was taking a "less is more" approach that was giving him a much wider palette to draw from in his improvisations. A couple of beautiful ballads show the more sensitive side of Coltrane's music with the soon to be standard "Naima" dedicated to his then wife, and "Central Park West" building a patient and subtle form. Overall, this is a fine introduction to the music of John Coltrane and will undoubtedly lead listeners town an epic path as they explore the extraordinary sound universe that he created. Very Best of John Coltrane - amazon.com

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