Monday, March 02, 2009

John Coltrane - Live at Birdland (Impulse, 1963)

Continuing my getting re-acquainted with John Coltrane's recordings brings me to another live/studio album split, much like the previous Impressions, this has some lengthy, intense live improvisations and a couple of shorter, melodic studio performances. The band is the "classic quartet" consisting of John Coltrane on tenor and soprano saxophones, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. Although Tyner and Garrison make a critical contribution in proving structure for the music (and Tyner solos beautifully) the real interaction on the live tracks is the Titanic energy being produced by Coltrane and Jones. On the opening track, "Afro-Blue" Jones' strength and ability to juggle rhythms are almost super human, and Coltrane responds to the challenge with an extraordinarily emotional cry on soprano saxophone. "I Want to Talk About You" has a fascinating tag ending, where Coltrane breaks free of the band and solos unaccompanied on tenor. "The Promise" is an original full band performance of great surging power. Of the studio tracks, "Alabama" is justly the most famous, and one of Coltrane's most famous and emotionally resonant compositions. Written to honor three children who were murdered by racist thugs in that state during the height of the civil rights struggle, the haunting and resonant melody is both haunting and inspiring. The album ends with a classy performance of the original "Your Lady." This is another wonderful John Coltrane album, state of the art jazz music for its time (and probably for today, too) which showed the the band was not only able to take standard jazz pieces and completely reinvent them in a live setting, but we also able to construct memorable original compositions, and use them to raise a voice against anger and hatred.
Live at Birdland -

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