Tuesday, August 23, 2016

John Coltrane - His Greatest Years, Vol. 2 (Impulse, 1972)

This is a two-LP collection that is long out of print, but easily obtainable secondhand at a bargain price. (My copy was $8.99 at Vintage Vinyl.) It is a sampling of the great saxophonist and composer John Coltrane’s work for the Impulse label for which he recorded from 1961 until his death in 1967. The album opens with the traditional standard “Greensleeves” which presents him in a large ensemble that gathered to record the Africa/Brass LP. This is a lullaby, played on soprano saxophone with gentle framing from the surrounding musicians. From there we move to a live recording of “India” from the famous Village Vanguard sessions of 1961. The music is an exotic blend of jazz and music from the east and the juxtaposition of Coltrane’s soprano saxophone and Eric Dolphy’s bass clarinet is alluring, especially with two bass players holding down the bottom. The music moves chronologically forward on side two (it’s one of those annoying collections where side one and four are one disc and sides two and three on another) to an open sounding version of “Miles Mode” and a brisk version of “Big Nick” from the famous album Coltrane recorded with Duke Ellington. Much of this collection features Coltrane’s soprano work, with this side concluding with “The Promise” recorded live at Birdland in 1963. The collection then moves into some of his freer work, beginning with “Chim Chim Cheree” and then excerpts the first fifteen minutes of the “Ascension” (version 2) album with torrid large ensemble playing and epic solos from Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. The concluding side of the album further demonstrates the extraordinary intensity of the music he was making near the end of his life. Presenting the opening section of “The Father and The Son and The Holy Ghost” from he Meditations LP with Coltrane and Sanders balanced by two drummers, Rashied Ali and Elvin Jones making for an extraordinarily deep, rhythmic performance. The most unexpected performance on this whole album is a molten exploration of a track called “Manifestation” from February of 1966. This is a relentless free improvisation, loud and proud and still bracing in its ability to instill awe even fifty years later. This may mot be well known because of it’s release as part of the much maligned posthumous album Cosmos, where Alice Coltrane controversially added overdubbing to some of the tracks. This deserves attention, especially in its unadorned form as an incredibly powerful performance. The album concludes with the short coda of “Ogunde” from one of his final recording sessions in March of 1967. Sadly he would pass away just a few months later. But as can be ascertained by listening to this album as well as the myriad of collection that have come out in the years following his death, the impact of John Coltrane’s music remains massive as he was one of the undisputed masters of the form. His Greatest Years, Vol.2 - amazon.com

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