Monday, October 03, 2011

John Coltrane - The John Coltrane Impulse! Albums Volume 5 (Hip-O, 2011)

This fifth and presumably final boxed set from Hip-O and Impulse! tracks the original release formats for the posthumous albums released under John Coltrane’s name during the late sixties and early seventies. They include some scalding free-jazz recorded both live and in the studio and a controversial album where strings and other instruments are overdubbed onto the recorded music. The set begins with the Transition album, the album that changed my life, and introduced me to the intense world of free jazz. That LP and the following release, Sun Ship, show the “Classic Quartet” of McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Elvin Jones in drums, moving away from traditional post-bop jazz into the New Thing of the 1960’s. The music is truly transitional, but absolutely fascinating to listen to, as Coltrane takes off for the stars while the group searches for their role in the evolving music. The interactions between Coltrane and drummer Elvin Jones are particularly powerful. The controversial album Infinity, is fascinating and to some Coltrane fans, appalling. Alice Coltrane developed string and harp arrangements and overdubbed them onto two tracks by the quartet and two tracks by Coltrane’s free jazz band. The music develops an air of dated psychedelic jazz (check out that original album cover!), with the heavy strings draped like a shroud over the music with Alice Coltrane’s harp glittering in the spaces. But regardless of the overdubbing, Coltrane’s saxophone always shines through, especially on “Leo” where he develops a choppy theme and uses it as a springboard to freedom. “Leo” is also the key track on their set’s glimpse into the Live in Japan recordings. Combined with parts of the “Meditations” suite, the music is an overpowering, yet beautiful example of John Coltrane’s final group which included Pharoah Sanders on saxophone, Alice Coltrane on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Rashied Ali on drums. A transitional group makes up the lineup the other in concert LP included here, Live in Seattle. Consisting of Pharoah Sanders on tenor saxophone, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, Donald Garrett on bass clarinet and bass and Elvin Jones on drums. The band seems to be tearing itself apart at the seems as they blast through epic versions of “Out of This World” and “Evolution” in some of the most caustic and exploratory music of Coltrane’s career. The music on this boxed set is fascinating and fills in some gaps in John Coltrane’s great career. The details can get a little confusing at times because this music has been released and re-released in many different configurations. But what is not confusing is John Coltrane’s wholehearted commitment to music and the exploration of new artistic frontiers, something that still shines as a beacon today. Impulse Albums 5 -

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