Various Artists: The House That Trane Built: The Story Of Impulse Records (2006)
From 1965-75, the Impulse! label was what Blue Note had been in the preceding decadenamely, the label that defined its erabut much of its back catalogue has been only fitfully available for years. The release of this four-CD set, plus a label biography and ten single-artist CD compilations, suggests that might be about to change.
If so, there's a thick, solid gold seam to mine. During one five-year period alone, Impulse! released over a hundred albums, and the innovations of its vanguard artists still resonate strongly with many contemporary musicians. If Impulse! is planning to emulate Blue Note's coherent and imaginative ongoing reissue programme, it will be time to put more flags out.
The House That Trane Built was compiled by Ashley Kahn, who also authored the new label biography of the same name (plus two previous worthwhile historical snapshots, Kind Of Blue: The Making Of The Miles Davis Masterpiece and A Love Supreme: The Creation Of John Coltrane's Classic Album). The 38 tracks Kahn has selected here inevitably won't sync with the preferences of every longterm Impulse! aficionado, but there isn't a dud among them, and the four CDs combine for an appealing and reasonably representative introduction to the label.
Of the five producers/A&R men who took turns driving Impulse!, it was Bob Thiele, the 1961-1969 incumbent, who shaped the label and created its mature artistic identity. Ed Michel, who succeeded Thiele, was a safe pair of hands who kept the direction mostly Thielish. Both men are well represented here. The four CDs progress more or less chronologically from 1960 through 1976 (with Alice Coltrane's "Walk With Me," from her fine 2005 album Translinear Light, closing the set). They include 26 Thiele-era tracks and four from Michel's time.
The Thiele-to-Michel ratio is about right. Thiele's work with John Coltrane included some of the saxophonist's most enduring work, and the selections here include tracks from the classic quartet's underrated Ballads and iconic A Love Supreme albums. Then there's Archie Shepp's rutting "Mama Too Tight" and Albert Ayler's off-planet "Our Prayer" (from Albert Ayler Live In Greenwich Village), Pharoah Sanders' 33-minute astral jazz masterpiece "The Creator Has A Master Plan" in full (from Karma), and an early version of Charles Lloyd's sublime "Forest Flower" (from Lloyd's then-employer Chico Hamilton's Man From Two Worlds.)
With contributions too from Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, Gato Barbieri, Paul Gonsalves, Roland Kirk and Ben Websterhardly defining Impulse! artists, but great musicians nonethelessthis set is a tenor saxophonist obsessive's dream. More, please... much more.
Track Listing: 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 In 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.