Thursday, July 21, 2011

John Coltrane - The Classic Quartet: Complete Impulse! Studio Recordings (Impulse, 1998)

The music on this large boxed set contains the studio recordings of one of the great jazz bands of the post-war era, John Coltrane’s “Classic Quartet.” Featuring Coltrane on tenor and soprano saxophones, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums the group's towering influence continues to be felt to this day. The seven disc set covers the band’s music from 1961-1965, and dramatically demonstrates how the their music evolved during the period. The collection opens with the bands first couple of sessions, which would go into the albums Ballads and Coltrane. The album of slow songs played against the prevailing wisdom of Coltrane as the “angry tenor” with an record of short, melody rich love songs like “Too Young to Go Steady” and “Nancy (With the Laughing Face)” where the group plays with beautiful patience. The Coltrane album shows the band picking up the pace with beautiful versions of Mal Waldron’s classic “Soul Eyes” and the melodic version of “The Inch Worm.” The politically potent scalding improvisation “Up ‘Gainst the Wall” is also included. Some beautiful ballads are featured on the next disc, “After the Rain” and a couple of studio takes of “Alabama,” haunting melodies of hope and sadness that linger in the mind long after they are heard. Next they move onto selections from two of Coltrane’s most famous LP’s, Crescent and A Love Supreme. The former is a somber record with compositions like “Lonnie’s Lament” and “Wise One” which take on a melancholy air. The suite A Love Supreme, long regarded as one of the finest records in jazz history, is a four part suite detailing Coltrane’s spiritual awakening in musical form. As the quartet neared the end of its special run, they recorded the album The John Coltrane Quartet Plays with another Disney associated song “Chim Chim Cheree.” The heart of the album is a beautiful version of “Nature Boy,” and from another session the absolutely scalding “One Down, One Up” captures the band at their most fiery. Selections from the the album Sun Ship show the band moving into free-jazz, a move that would lead Tyner and Jones to depart the band. But the push and pull between tonality and atonality gives the music an edgy power that is fascinating to hear. Also included are previously unreleased songs that would turn up again on future reissues. The quartet recorded a version of the Meditations suite called First Meditations, which like A Love Supreme, showed how Coltrane’s deepening spiritual seeking was informing his musical quest. The collection is wrapped up with a disc of previously unreleased takes, unfinished works in progress and alternate takes that show how the band’s music progressed over time. This is a fascinating set that justifies its expense by allowing the listener to track the growth of one of jazz’s finest bands over time as they bond, develop and eventually fragment. Essential for Coltrane fans, just remember that this set includes the quartet recordings only, so the albums with guests like Johnny Hartman and Duke Ellington are not included. The Classic Quartet: Complete Impulse! Studio Recordings -

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