All Of You: The Last Tour 1960 (Box Set) By Miles Davis With John Coltrane

February 27, 2015

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Miles Davis, (1926-1991), and John Coltrane, (1926-1967), were two giants of American music who changed and influenced the course of American jazz during the second half of the twentieth century.

Coltrane was an on again – off again member of the Miles Davis Quintet, 1955-1960. It was not always a harmonious union as they had very different approaches to music. When you listen to their solos within the context of the quintet, it is two unique, if not cohesive, statements being made next to each other. Coltrane was always looking inward for inspiration, while Davis was willing to expand outward wherever his imagination would take him. Despite their differences, everything worked and their time together resulted in some of the most exciting jazz of the era.

Their last hurrah together was a twenty date European tour in the spring of 1960. Many of the concerts were broadcast over a number of national radio networks, plus a few were privately recorded. A selection of tracks from the tour has now been released as a four-CD box set titled All Of You: The Last Tour 1960.

The sound runs the gamut from very average to good, so be prepared for an up and down experience. Sometimes the issues are as simple as microphone placement as certain instruments disappear from time to time. The good news is Davis’s and Coltrane’s solos are the clearest parts.

The box set draws from seven different dates from five countries. Everything is wisely presented chronologically so the listener can follow the bands development. This is very clear with two performances of “So What” recorded at different shows on the same date where the second is more energetic than the first. It then appears a third time where Davis takes it all into a new register.

The April 8th concert from Zurich has the best overall sound. “If I Were A Bell” is filled with ringing and inspired solos. The version of “So What” finds Coltrane moving beyond the traditional norms of the past.

When the tour ended, Coltrane would embark on his own solo career and never play with Davis again. What is left behind is this last testament of their time together.

All Of You: The Last Tour 1960 is not for the beginner. It is a set for someone who has a basic knowledge of their work individually and together. It’s fragmented nature make it a less than perfect release but there are flashes of genius, which make it a worthwhile listening experience, especially for the jazz aficionado.

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Afro Blue Impressions by John Coltrane

October 2, 2013

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Fifty years is a lifetime for some, but John Coltrane accomplished so much in his short life, having died at the age of 40 in 1967. On October 22, 1963, and November 2, of the same year, he was on a tour of Europe. The tapes were rolling both nights and those performances were released as a double vinyl album in 1977, a decade after his passing. Now Pablo Records, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the concerts, has re-released Afro Blue Impressions as a part of the Concord Music Group’s Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series. It also returns in an expanded form.

Coltrane was in what is considered the second phase of his career. He began as a sideman to Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk and by the early 1960s was leading his own quartet. The jazz great used what he learned from Monk and Davis as a jumping off place; he began to leave harmonic structures behind as his extended solos combined individual notes into swirling patterns. His approach was a type of free-form music, which allowed him to explore the outer edges of jazz music.

Coltrane on stage is, unsurprisingly, different from in the studio. The songs change and many are extended to give him room to explore the songs’ structures and in most cases, leave them behind.

He is accompanied by pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones. They are not so much a tight unit as they are flexible, which is perfect for Coltrane, who places his emphasis on imagination and improvisation.

The Broadway hit, “My Favorite Things,” is Coltrane at his best. The performance is extended out to beyond 20 minutes, which allows him to explore the tune’s many intricate textures and patterns. He constantly changes direction and creates a number of surprises along the way.

His own compositions, “Lonnie’s Lament,” “I Want to Talk About You,” “Spiritual,” and “Impressions” are built upon his feelings as expressed with his saxophone. The three bonus tracks, “Naima,” “I Want to Talk About You,” and a 14-minute version of “My Favorite Things” were taken from different concerts than those on the original release and provide a wonderful glimpse on how his music changes from night to night.

As with all the releases in the series, the sound is amazingly clear given the age of the original tapes. The booklet presents a nice history of the music.

John Coltrane’s music would continue to evolve, as his style would eventually leave many of the norms of jazz music behind; he would also take on a decidedly spiritual nature. Afro Blue Impressions catches him in a very settled stage in his career and while it may not be for the faint-hearted, it is a good introduction to his music.


The Very Best Of John Coltrane by John Coltrane

July 10, 2012

John Coltrane has been gone almost 45 years, yet his influence as a jazz musician and improvisational artist continue to be of influence to the generations that have followed. Very few artists achieved such a monumental impact in as short of time, as he was a band leader for only ten years, 1957-67.

I usually prefer studio albums over compilation releases as they present the artist’s musical statement at a certain time in history. Next come live albums as they demonstrate the artist’s capability to present his or her musical statements on stage. Compilation albums present a taste of an artist’s work, which brings us to the subject of this review, The Very Best Of John Coltrane: The Prestige Era.

The Concord Music Group has just issued a series of Very Best albums by jazz legends Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery, Sonny Rollins, Chet Baker, and John Coltrane. The Coltrane release focuses upon his Prestige Label tenure. His time with the label may have been brief but it produced some of the most creative work of his career. During the time period he served as a member of groups led by Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, in addition to his solo work.

The recordings in this collection capture Coltrane at the beginning of his popularity, 1956-1958. They present him as a featured soloist, a sideman, and as his confidence grew, a bandleader.

The selected material presents a good picture of this period of his career. There is the sensitivity of his ballads, “Theme For Ernie” and “Soultrane.” There is his manual dexterity on such bebop and hard-bop tracks, “Good Bait” and “Freight Trane.” There is the sonic pleasure of the up-tempo “I Hear A Rhapsody.” He shows his emotions through his saxophone on “Bahia” and “I Love You.” There is a jazz-blues piece with “Traneing In.” Toward the end of his time with Prestige his music and recording techniques were becoming more sophisticated as he began to layer his sound. This technique is evident on “Lover Come Back To Me” and “Nutty.”

The collected tracks feature some of the best musicians in jazz history. Pianists Red Garland, Tommy Flanagan, and Thelonious Monk, drummers Arthur Taylor, Toots Heath, and Jimmy Cobb, and bassists Earl May, John Simmons, and Paul Chambers represent some of the cream of the jazz world during the second half of the 1950s. Throw in trumpet player Donald Byrd and guitarist Kenny Burrell and you have a number of individual and group delights.

The sound has been cleaned up as much as the technology of the era will allow. There is a booklet that examines his time with the label in some detail.

When Coltrane left the Prestige label he was well on his way toward making lasting impressions upon the jazz world. The ten tracks gathered here represent the beginning of that process. While his studio albums may have more depth and cohesiveness, the material presented here are excellent snapshots of a jazz legend at the beginning of one of the most productive periods in jazz history.

Article first published as Music Review: John Coltrane – The Very Best Of John Coltrane: The Prestige Era on Blogcritics.


The Definitive John Coltrane by John Coltrane

September 12, 2010

The Concord Music Group has assembled a new music series. Jazz giants John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Sonny Rollins’ classic material from the ‘50s is being resurrected and reissued as two-discsets. These best of or definitive compilations are wonderful introductions to not only these legendary artists but to an era of American jazz as well.

John Coltrane had a short but brilliant career. He first entered a recording studio during the mid-‘40s, but it was his work for the Prestige and Riverside labels that pushed him to the forefront of jazz musicians and cemented his reputation as one of the premier sax players in American music history. During this time period, he played with such greats as Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Art Chambers, Kenny Burrell, and Red Garland.

The Definitive John Coltrane gathers material beginning in 1955 with his work for the New Miles Davis Quintet, continues with tracks from his Prestige label recordings, and concludes with some of his releases for the Riverside Label. The 21 tracks cover a four year period from the mid-‘50s. The enclosed booklet is excellent with a nice personal biography plus a history of each recording. The tracks are presented in chronological order, which allows the listener to follow the progression and evolution of his style.

During the latter part of his career, Coltrane entered the studio with some preconceived ideas. During his time with Riverside, and particularly Prestige, he participated in long jams that allowed his genius to flow unhindered. This release is emblematic of that style, and such creations as “While My Lady Sleeps,” “Lush Life,” and “I Want To Talk About You” remain fresh and enduring over a half century later.

His early work with Miles Davis is represented by three tracks taken from different albums. Coltrane is the ultimate sideman on these tracks as he weaves his signature sound into the melodies and takes a number of tasty solos.

After a short spell supporting Thelonious Monk during 1957, which is represented by two tracks here, Coltrane assumed the role of band leader and begin to issue his own albums. His own “Straight Street” gives notice of his emergence as a composer of note. Meanwhile, his interpretation of Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce” remains fresh over fifty years later.

He transforms a number of traditional pop and show tunes into jazz classics. Johnny Mercer’s “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” Irvin Berlin’s “Russian Lullaby,” “Cole Porter’s “I Love You,” and the Cahn/Stine standard “Time After Time” all succumb to his brilliant arrangements and improvisational style.

The Definitive John Coltrane is an effective sampling of the early career of a jazz legend. It is nice to have so many classic treats in one place.