The singular odyssey of the tenor and soprano saxophonist/composer John Coltrane is among the most intrepidly influential, profoundly impassioned, and thoroughly compelling musical stories of the 20th century. In his brief time at jazz's forefront--roughly from 1955, when he joined the trumpeter Miles Davis's first great quintet to 1967, when he died, two month short of his 41st birthday-Coltrane re-wrote (and re-wrote again) the book on improvisational virtuosity; pure, penetrating sound; and extended spontaneous brilliance.
That book has always been divided into the following chapters: the hard bop and balladry of Coltrane's Prestige Records years (1956-1958), the Blue Note year (1957, with his post-bop masterpiece, "Blue Train"), the chordal mastery and emerging modality of his Atlantic years (1959-1961), and the modal preeminence that exploded into music of the spheres while at Impulse! Records (1961-1967). But with the release in 2001 of the 7-disc set Live Trane, one must add Coltrane's Pablo oeuvre, chronicling three European tours he made in the early 1960s with both a quintet, featuring his soulmate, the multi-reed giant Eric Dolphy, and his exceptional quartet comprising the pianist McCoy Tyner (on his way to becoming a major figure), the bassists Reggie Workman and, for the most part, Jimmy Garrison, and the volcanic Elvin Jones, the most significant drummer of the era.
Live Trane, recorded between November 1961and November 1963 in Pars, Stockholm, Hamburg, Berlin and
, presents 37 often-epochal, always powerful selections. Most of them are previously unissued for commercial release in the The set was assembled by producer Eric Miller from the voluminous tape archive of the distinguished impresario, record producer, and Pablo Records chief Norman Granz, under whose aegis Coltrane's groups toured
Herein we encounter Coltrane at several critical junctures: making the transition from a multi-chordal attack to extended blowing on scalarfigures or a single, dronelike chord; adapting the ragas and nasal sonorities of Indian music, and incorporating the soprano saxophone, as key elements; partnered with the electrifying Dolphy, and creating a new sensibility, wherein a solo could stretch into a soliloquy, albeit one backed solely by Jones's meteor shower cymbals and polyrythmic tom-toms.
Live Trane's 17 compositions, 11 written by the leader, provide fascinating multiple examinations of "My Favorite Things," "Impressions," "Mr. P.C.," and "Naima." Coltrane is, of course, all over his saxophones, interspersing arid upper register cries with plangent sighs and bellows at the lower end. Inspired by enthralled audiences and spurred on by Dolphy and a rhythm section that breathes fire or simmers with equal élan, Coltrane's speechlike phrases and seemingly endless, arpeggiated passages push ever more relentlessly at the melodic, rhythmic, and especially, harmonic boundaries.
Newly remastered with a detailed essay by Neil Tesser, Live Trane joins the ranks of Essential Coltrane.