Imagine that New York’s 52nd Street jazz scene never died and John Coltrane lived his life out there, playing an endless series of jam sessions. What if he had never passed through the portal of Miles’ and McCoy’s modal playing, down the rivers of Africa and the Middle East, propelled by the Black experience of the 1960s?
Blue Train gives a taste of what that might have been like, as well as a taste of what was to come. This reissue of the 1957 album finds Trane blowing hard on one of his first albums as a band leader. With one foot still in the Charlie Parker catalog and one ear turned toward hard bop, the album sounds like a typical club set. The album is best known for the title track, Coltrane’s first notable composition. His solo starts off with an announcement that he has something to say, but quickly moves toward Birdland. “Moment’s Notice” and “Locomotion” also demonstrate that, even before his work was informed by his eventual stylistic uniqueness and spiritual depth, Trane could write a compelling, well-organized tune.
The group’s rendering of the Kern/Mercer ballad “I’m Old Fashioned” and Trane’s “Lazy Bird” are a let down after the first three, although each has some nice playing by various band members.
The album benefits from Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones from Miles’ band laying down the bass and drums. Kenny Drew’s plays bluesy piano completes the excellent rhythm section. A young Lee Morgan contributes to the boppish flavor of the album with his Gillespie-ish licks (he even played a bent up horn). Curtis Fuller passes up the rapid fire riffing trombonists sometimes employ in trying to keep up with their more nimble bandmates in favor of a more nuanced, rhythmic variety. And he burns when he has to.
From Blue Train to Giant Steps just two years later was indeed a giant step, and to A Love Supreme there's a distance that’s hard to contemplate. Still, this is a wonderfully energetic and enjoyable album. That surpassing greatness of spirit isn’t quite there yet, but Trane as just an “ordinary” great tenor player is still quite something, on a par with Clifford Brown, early Rollins, Horace Silver, and Art Blakey from that era.
The reissue gives you two alternate takes of the title track—completists, knock yourself out. Those with SACD players will appreciate the high-resolution layer; it’s warmer and sweeter and shows off the rhythm section quite well.
Track Listing: Blue Train;
I'm Old Fashioned;
Blue Train (alt);
Blue Train (alt).
Personnel: John Coltrane, tenor; Lee Morgan, trumpet; Curtis Fuller, trombone; Kenny Drew, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Philly Joe Jones, drums