All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Serving jazz worldwide since 1995
All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Extended Analysis

The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records

By Published: July 6, 2006
Various Artists
The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records

Your reaction to this four-CD box has a great deal to do with whether you give more emphasis to the main title, "The House That Trane Built, or the subtitle, "The Story of Impulse Records. If you want to follow the Impulse! story, this is a fine cherry-picking by jazz journalist Ashley Kahn of many of the high points of the '60s label. But that label was riddled by a major, delicious contradiction. While it was a magnet for African-American experimentalists, it also was a mainstream label for more traditional-minded players like Benny Carter, Count Basie, Ben Webster and Paul Gonzales.

The commercial and artistic success that Coltrane brought to the fledgling label brought about identification in the minds of some jazz critics, including yours truly, that the Impulse! label was fundamentally revolutionary in pushing jazz into terra incognita. It was, for those of us coming of age as jazz listeners in the 1960s, quite aptly "The House That Trane Built.

If you listen to this set with that assumption in mind, you will most likely be disappointed, since the omissions are stunning—and all the more disappointing when you take into account the other products marketed with this set: ten separate CDs showcasing individual Impulse! artists, as well as a book, all created by Kahn, as well as an inexpensive "Best of Impulse sampler. Missing in action are Sam Rivers, Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor (who recorded for Impulse! under the umbrella of the Into the Hot session led by Gil Evans). Each of these musicians was a major theoretician as well as a practitioner of revolutionary jazz. To omit them is to omit Coltrane's peers, who damn well were building as well as inhabiting the same house that Coltrane was building at the same time.

The extent of this loss of key musicians from this Impulse! compilation can best by judged by listening carefully to McCoy Tyner's "T 'n T Blues on disc two in this box. The great tenor saxophonist John Gilmore, on loan from his lifetime gig with Sun Ra, gives the only memorable solo on the recording, but Tyner is way out of his depth around Gilmore, who was Coltrane's teacher. Tyner was still quite young when Impulse! gave him his own contract, and I suppose that if none of his Impulse! recordings revealed the richness of concept and technique that the later Blue Note and Milestone albums did, it would have been better to have included Tyner's tentative starts sans Gilmore.

For anyone who loved the Sun Ra, Taylor and Rivers recordings that have been poorly reissued over the years, some annoying moments come in when trying to accept this compilation as "The Story of Impulse Records. The Latin mannerisms, however good natured, of Clark Terry seem simply a trivial aside in the big story of the label, and the same might be said of Gabor Szabo. Rollins is represented by the much-anthologized "Alfie's Theme, which hardly shows Rollins at his freewheeling best. And it is hard not to agree with Jarrett's own assessment of most of his Impulse! albums, namely that they are simply a prelude to the realized improvisations that would follow on the ECM label. Are any of these selections a remote justification for not including Rivers or Sun Ra?

Rather than assuming that Kahn left out Rivers, Sun Ra and Taylor because his taste ran too conservatively to include such extreme experimentation, I'm simply puzzled. He does include all 33 minutes of Pharoah Sanders' "The Creator Has a Master Plan, and that combination of yodeling, screaming sax, kitschy poetry and cosmically dense white noise is terrifically hard listening, even when the trite poetry is happily lost in the swampy mix. It also takes up half of disc four, which could have been better served by Rivers or Ra, or others like Marion Brown and Max Roach.

I'm not fit to comment on the Creator's master plan, but I question how well Kahn's master plan for this compilation tells a balanced and comprehensive story of a label that looked, Janus-faced, backwards to jazz tradition and forward to new definitions of jazz. This compilation has done a fair amount of justice to a label that looked back at jazz tradition, but it depicts only partially, faintly, the forward-looking perspective beyond Coltrane.

I celebrate the rebirth of the Impulse! label with this compilation, the ten individual showcase CDs, the CD budget sampler, and book. However, I grieve for the musicians who end up missing in action, and the loss is much bigger than my own.


CD1: Where Flamingos Fly (Gil Evans); Stolen Moments (Oliver Nelson); Greensleeves (John Coltrane); Alamode (Art Blakely); Honeysuckle Rose (Benny Carter); Trey Of Hearts (Count Basie); Samba Para Bean (Coleman Hawkins); Too Young To Go Steady (John Coltrane); Snap Crackle (Roy Haynes); Chocolate Shake (Freddie Hubbard); Impressions (John Coltrane); Theme From Lester Young (Aka Goodbye Pork Pie Hat) (Charles Mingus).

CD2: My One And Only Love (John Coltrane); Salt And Pepper (Sonny Stitt); Forest Flower (Sunrise/Forest Flower (Sunset (Chico Hamilton); T 'N' A Blues (McCoy Tyner); Someone To Watch Over Me (Ben Webster); Sister Mamie (Yusef Lateef); A Love Supreme: Part 1 (Acknowledgement (John Coltrane); Rapid Shave (Shirley Scott); Los Olvidados (Archie Shepp); Ask Me Now! (Pee Wee Russell).

CD3: Black And Tan Fantasy (Earl Hines); Alfie's Theme (Sonny Rollins); Spanish Rice (Clark Terry); Mama Too Tight (Archie Shepp); Gypsy Queen (Gabor Szabo); Larry Of Arabia (Chico Hamilton); Our Prayer (Albert Ayler); Offering (John Coltrane); Journey Is Satchidananda (Alice Coltrane); War Orphans (Charlie Haden).

CD4: Stolen Moments (Ahmad Jamal); The Creator Has A Master Plan (Pharoah Sanders); India (Gato Barbieri); The Rich (And The Poor) (Keith Jarrett); Hard Work (John Handy); Walk With Me (Alice Coltrane).

Personnel: Albert Ayler; Gato Barbieri; Count Basie; Art Blakey; Benny Carter; John Coltrane; Alice Coltrane; Gil Evans; Charlie Haden; Chico Hamilton; John Handy; Coleman Hawkins; Roy Haynes; Earl Hines; Freddie Hubbard; Ahmad Jamal ; Keith Jarrett; Yusef Lateef; Charles Mingus; Oliver Nelson; Sonny Rollins; Pee Wee Russell; Pharoah Sanders; Shirley Scott; Archie Shepp; Sonny Stitt; Gabor Szabo; Clark Terry; McCoy Tyner; Ben Webster; others.

comments powered by Disqus