Sunday, September 04, 2011

John Coltrane - The Impulse! Albums Volume 4 (Hip-O Select, 2011)

This ongoing series of boxed sets has been taking the recordings of saxophonist and composer John Coltrane and restoring them to their original LP format, stripping alternate takes, extra liner material and the like while returning the music to its originally released format, with the artwork and notes as appeared during their first release in 1965-1968. Included in this set are the albums Expression, Live at the Village Vanguard Again!, Om, Cosmic Music (co credited to Alice Coltrane) and Selflessness featuring My Favorite Things. Most of the albums contain Coltrane's core group of the time: himself on tenor and soprano saxophone, also flute with Pharoah Sanders on tenor saxophone, flutes and percussion, Alice Coltrane on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Rashied Ali on drums. While the music moves into deeply strong free jazz territory for most of the set, there is a fascinating track on Expression called "To Be" where Coltrane and Sanders play flute, giving the music a radically different sound than they had been exploring up to that point. The rest of the album features strong muscular saxophone playing over Ali's ever shifting percussion and Garrison's rock solid bass. Recorded live at the Village Vanguard for the second time, Again! features a very different sound than the first LP they recorded there in 1961. There are a couple of long tracks here, a very beautiful version of the original "Naima," which combines flowing lyricism and deep melodic beauty. Jimmy Garrison is given a lengthy introduction to what became John Coltrane's signature piece, "My Favorite Things." This is simply an awesome performance, with spellbinding solos from the whole group and a fascinating look into the controlled ferocity that Coltrane was capable of as opposed to Sanders heaving, screeching search for his own true voice. Om is a controversial album from 1965, marking the transition between the "classic quartet" with McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones and the totally free band that would soon follow. Growing pains are evident, but the music is fascinating if downright frightening in its intensity. Featuring chanted and spoken passages, as well as titanic blowing from the saxophonists, it is unique entry in the leader's catalog. Credited to both John and Alice Coltrane, Cosmic Music has something of an unusual history, being released after the saxophonists death, but finds him playing beautifully on the civil rights anthem "Reverend King." Also included are a couple of Alice Coltrane led recordings that appeared on her solo LP A Monastic Trio. Finally, Selflessness featuring My Favorite Things is a cobbled together LP that features two extraordinary live tracks from the 1963 Newport Jazz Festival with Roy Haynes sitting in for Elvin Jones. "My Favorite Things" is taken at epic length, and Coltrane's solo is one of controlled majesty throughout. "I Want to Talk About You" has a beautifully melodic tag ending that allows him to float unaccompanied in free space to extraordinary effect. Then it's a jarring shift to 1965 and an augmented band playing the furious "Selflessness," a powerful transitional recording with Jones battling to be heard over a towering three horn front line. This set is particularly appealing to music fans who are interested in John Coltrane's transition from so-called modal jazz to totally free improvisation. Although much of the music on these recordings is of an experimental nature, moments of sheer beauty and jaw-dropping power abound. Original Impulse Albums Volume Four

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