Thursday, July 14, 2016

John Coltrane - The Atlantic Years In Mono (Atlantic Catalog Group, 2016)

In 1959, John Coltrane had conquered his personal demons and was looking forward to finishing his apprenticeship with Miles Davis while evolving with blazing speed. The albums he recorded as a leader for Atlantic in 1959 and 1960 are some of his most famous. This collection includes mono versions of the albums Giant Steps, Bags and Trane, Ole Coltrane, Coltrane Plays The Blues and The Avant-Garde. The original mono master tapes for My Favorite Things, Coltrane Jazz, and Coltrane's Sound were lost in a fire so those three are not included. The five albums in this set contain the originally released music, and a sixth disc holds some alternate takes and audio ephemera. In monaural sound one single channel is used. It can be reproduced through several speakers, but all speakers are still reproducing the same copy of the signal. It seems to suit this music very well, everything is clear and up-front and the bass seems to be very prominent. Giant Steps was Coltrane’s debut for Atlantic and it remains one of his towering achievements. The sheer speed of his improvising and the clarity of his articulation are still stunning today when listening to classics like the title track and the fierce “Mr. P.C.” Yet he was able to show that he was still a masterful ballad player with the soon to be jazz standard “Naima.” The Bags and Trane album placed him into a more traditional blues based format, co-leading an album with vibraphone master Milt Jackson. Although it might seem to be a mismatch, the album works very well, especially in the tumbling “Be-Bop” and the lengthy emotional resonance of “The Late Late Blues.” Ole Coltrane would him find pushing relentlessly forward, adding Eric Dolphy and Freddie Hubbard taking the Spanish tinged melody of the title track and improvising it into a LP side long wonder.  Coltrane Plays The Blues swings back to the middle again, but does beautifully with Coltrane playing more soprano saxophone on “Blues to Bechet,” while “Blues to You” shows the nearly complete classic quartet in excellent form. The Avant-Garde was recorded with Ornette Coleman influenced players Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell. While it wasn’t released concurrently with these other albums (it was withheld until 1966) the music is excellent, showing that Coltrane had absorbed Coleman’s ideas and was rapidly developing his own. The final disc contains versions of standards like “Centerpiece” and “Stairway to the Stars” as well as untitled originals from these sessions. This is a very interesting set of music. You will probably have to be areal audiophile to understand and appreciate the difference between the mono and stereo versions, but regardless this is a fine look back on some of John Coltrane’s most formative recordings. The Atlantic Years In Mono (6CD Boxset) - amazon.com

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