One track minded
A sax legend’s mono offerings come straight at you. By Jim Irvin.
On the block this month, five smartly done 180g vinyl facsimiles of original Atlantic mono albums, featuring saxophone legend John Coltrane, previously included in a boxed set through Rhino Vinyl last year. Atlantic’s jazz albums of the period were mixed separately to mono and stereo masters from 8-track multitracks. The discrete mono versions can be different enough to interest serious collectors. Though Coltrane oversaw only four Atlantic albums himself – Giant Steps, Coltrane Jazz, My Favorite Things and Olé Coltrane – the label issued eight albums featuring him between 1960 and 1966. Coltrane Plays The Blues and Coltrane’s Sound were extracted from the abundant sessions for his commercial hit, My Favorite Things. There was also an excitable bop session with Don Cherry – though its highlight is the restrained Bensha Swing – cut in 1960 and released in 1966 as The Avant Garde A more mellow 1959 session with the MJQ’s vibraphone player Milt ‘Bags’ Jackson, was issued as Bags & Trane in 1960. The original mono masters for My Favorite Things, Coltrane Jazz and Coltrane’s Sound were notoriously destroyed in a fire at Atlantic’s New Jersey archive in 1978; all the surviving albums are what we have here. Recorded at the time by renowned engineers Tom Dowd, Phil Iehle and Phil Ramone, Coltrane’s Atlantic sessions have suffered from some unnecessarily bright remastering in stereo in the years since. The two co-lead albums do seem rather shrill, but the rest are warm and convincing. They all come with repro prints of the sleeve artwork for wall mounting. The Atlantic deal came as Coltrane, having left Miles Davis after Kind Of Blue, was establishing himself as a leader. His label debut Giant Steps was a landmark recording of his own compositions. Its bopping flurries – check the frantic Countdown – weren’t to everyone’s taste but it effectively cemented a reputation as the leading innovator on his instrument. Released after he’d left the label, Coltrane Plays The Blues collects some less remarkable improvisations, with moments of skronking on auto-pilot. But the sinewy Mr. Syms is a highlight. Much more accessible is Olé Coltrane Unaccountably overlooked when his best work is discussed, it’s a sort of retort to Miles’s Sketches Of Spain from the previous year; not as elaborate, but similarly evocative. The side-long Olé features a great piano solo from McCoy Tyner and exotic interplay between doubled double-bass players Reggie Workman and Art Davis. Trane blows a lyrical soprano sax and Eric Dolphy crops up too, billed as George Lane. The lovely Aisha has a Kind Of Blue aspect to it. Moorish.
“OLÉ COLTRANE IS A SORT OF RETORT TO MILES’S SKETCHES OF SPAIN.”