John Coltrane fans have a reason to freak-out with this still welcome new release. The reason being, after the release of both the seven disc Coltrane: The Classic Quartet Complete Impulse Studio Recordings, and the four disc Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings, the realization occurs that the music of John Coltrane is so complex and able to be appreciated on so many levels (many, yet to be discovered), that entire years could be devoted to any one of these sets. And then, just maybe then, you might finish peeling the first layer to the musical onion called Coltrane, and begin to get some sort of a grip on all that’s going on.
And now comes the seven disc, eight hour, half-unreleased Live Trane, a, beyond bold musical juggernaut that will blow your mind like a cherry bomb in a tomato. Released to commemorate what would be John Coltrane’s 75 birthday, you can’t help but wonder what John Coltrane (like with Hendrix), might have accomplished if we didn’t lose some 35 years of possible experimentation. But we do have these recordings from Trane's 1961-63 European tours, provided by Norman Granz, who produced or supervised the recording of them all. The time between ’61 and ‘63 was the exact crux of John Coltrane’s biscuit, that exact moment in his development before his music went into another universe, but after he’d already left more earthbound conceits at home. By 1961, he had finally found the three musical compatriots who could really empathize with him, and this is beautiful, spiritual, inspiring music; from what for many folks is his most fruitful period. Picking-up a couple weeks after the recording of the Village Vanguard tapes (Dolphy appears on the first two discs on this set), and ending with his Nov. ’63 tour, in 1964 he would record his masterpiece, A Love Supreme, the culmination of this period and certainly his most popular disc.
This set, including many unreleased gems, helps to fill-out our understanding of just what the John Coltrane Quartet was capable of at this outstanding point in their evolution. Also, you’ve never heard this band – Trane, especially – so energized, and to hear a super-charged Coltrane blowing like the devil’s gnawing on his heels is even better. And the crowd may just be the difference: the audience reaction on these discs often sound as intensely charged as an American rockshow when they call out your hometown’s name or sing a line about getting high. And this for a jazz group! According to Einstein or somebody, all that energy has to go somewhere and it does – apparently right into the Quartet. Trane seems to be on fire, and I honestly believe this is John Coltrane at his most inspired. Too many highlights to list, it’s worth noting that while these four compadres could invoke the thunderous sounds and energy of what sounds like a much larger group, they were also able to blow a smooth ballad, able to take the energy and sound level down to a soft melodic caress. It should also be noted that the band’s engine room, drummer Elvin Jones, is just plain one of the greatest drummers you'll ever hear playing any type of music, and on these discs he often sounds like a fleet of John Bonhams as he battles with Trane.
Finally, consider this, as it needs to be said: An alien picking up any random entertainment rag today, would be led to believe that Tom Cruise, Brittany Spears, Madonna, Rob Schnider (among others) are some of this planet’s greatest minds, having all been repeatedly described as ”brilliant.” So, today it really does need to be said again: John Coltrane was a genius. What he could express with a saxophone! Words simply were not needed. One in a handful of true musicians, up there with Beethoven, Bach, Charlie Parker, fill-in-your-blank, it’s been truly thrilling as well as moving, going through and listening to these discs over the past couple of weeks. And it still will be over the next few and on into years, of that I have no doubt.
Personnel: John Coltrane--Tenor, soprano saxophones, McCoy Tyner--Piano, Jimmy Garrison, Reggie Workman--Bass, Elvin Jones--Drums