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John Coltrane- Coltrane's Sound (1964)

Updated: May 9

John Coltrane- Coltrane's Sound

(Atlantic Records)

Released July 1964

Recorded October 24 and 26, 1960

By 1964, Coltrane was at the height of fame, so Atlantic Records released older tracks to capitalize. Coltrane's Sound is one of those releases, as it was recorded in 1960. It's crazy to think this music sat in a vault for four years. The album is somewhat overlooked as a "classic," yet an evaluation of the music and album showcases some of Trane's finest work. The record includes pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones who were part of Coltrane's classic Quartet. The final member of the classic group Jimmy Garrison was not a member at this time, as Steve Davis handled the bass chair.

Side 1

(+ means "recommended track" and * means released as a single)

Track 1- "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes" is one of two standards from the album. Written by Jerry Brainin with lyrics by Buddy Bernier, the song was used in the 1948 film of the same name. Numerous jazz artists have recorded it, but few can transform a jazz standard quite like Coltrane. In his version, the band switches between Latin and uptempo swing to a practice that has now become common when performing the song. Trane's "reaching" quality is instantly felt in his improvisation as he navigates through the chord changes. The great foil to Coltrane's playing is Tyner, a brilliant soloist who showcases innovative melodic lines interspersed with personalized "open-sounding" chord voicings.

Track 2- "Central Park West" is one of several beautiful ballads written by Trane. The song showcases "Coltrane Changes," a concept in which he offers alternate and substitute chords breaking the trends of expected jazz harmony. Trane chooses to play the soprano saxophone on this cut. Few jazz artists have used the soprano saxophone since New Orleans Dixieland legend Sydney Bechet began showcasing the sax in the 1920s. Trane never solos on the tune; instead, he offers Tyner a solo in which the piano master plays an impressionistic improvisation worthy of praise. "Central Park West" sets a mellow mood and is gorgeous. (+)

Track 3- "Liberia" is another Trane original transcending the standard jazz context. After a rubato (out-of-tempo) intro Coltrane is off and running on this one as he presents an expressive and fiery solo played over a rapid tempo. Take special notice of the rhythmic energy and accents provided by Elvin Jones and the specific chord voicing and placement of Tyner's backing. Bassist Steve Davis anchors the tune through repeated pedal tones and a solid walking baseline. Coltrane has such a presence, but high praise should be given to Tyner's fantastic solo. The song's title refers to a West African country. Coltrane and Elvin Jones were particularly diligent in their studies of African music. (+)

Side 2

Track 1- "Body and Soul" is a jazz standard often played as a slow ballad. Still, of course, Coltrane does not follow suit, and he offers his take on the classic by providing new levels of expressiveness, a brighter tempo, and a referencing of alternate chord changes. Part of the harmonic interest is connected with bassist Steve Davis' use of pedal tones against the chord changes, which in their original form are challenging. Take notice of Coltrane's writing during the song's outro (ending).

Track 2- "Equinox" is a Coltrane classic and his take on a minor 12-bar blues form. In his discussion of Equinox, jazz historian (and my friend and mentor) Lewis Porter, "Coltrane's "Coltrane was a serious blues player, and his blues pieces reflect the desire to get back to a primal mood and away from the emotionally lighter, harmonically more complicated and complex blues of the boppers." Today the song is a standard and often played at jazz jam sessions but in an easier key than Coltrane's version (he plays it in C#m, and most mortals change it to Cm). (+)

Track 3 -"Satellite" is Coltrane's reworking of the standard "How High The Moon." McCoy Tyner is not on track, and the backing of only bass and drums changes the overall tonal concept of the tune and album. This one is a favorite among saxophonists because it showcases the extreme technicality and brilliance of Coltrane playing over "Coltrane changes."

Conclusion: Since the recordings were made four years before the release Coltrane Sound is a critical album for Coltrane's progression as a soloist and writer. It is a well-balanced album and one of his finest and most underrated albums.

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