In all, it was a busy week. Near the end of 1960, John Coltrane owed Atlantic a bunch of albums, due at the close of the year. He did what his old boss had four years earlier: record a whole mass of material all at once. It was the start of Elvin’s stay and the end of Steve Davis’; a group in flux, but a leader in full control. The tunes were done with no album in mind: on Oct. 21 they recorded “My Favorite Things,” and “Village Blues,” which went on Coltrane Jazz. On the 24th they recorded several blues, “Summertime,” “Body and Soul,” and two originals, among them “Satellite.” Work was done on the 26th: three standards (including “Every Time We Say Goodbye”) and three originals (the best being “Equinox.”) The label sorted it out: the commercial sides went on My Favorite Things, the blues tagged for Coltrane Plays the Blues. All else went here: mostly original, this album has a mood like “Things,” only deeper. It searches; introspective, a little sad, and with a sense of wonder. The tracks weren’t planned to go together, but how they fit!
Right off he starts hopping: “Thousand Eyes” starts with hard tone, and glows when Tyner hits the thick chords. You get the old sheets of sound, then, for a moment, the two-note cries and rusty honks of later years. He begins to take the next step; you are a witness. “Central Park” offers different contrasts: the “Giant Steps” progression applied to a ballad, the soprano used much differently than “My Favorite Things.” He sounds like an alto, pausing sweetly as he walks through the park. McCoy brings the stardust, twinkling his solo with the lightest of notes, with the deepest of impact. A nice, quiet, relaxed sort of album that’s what you expect so far.
And the only thing you should expect from John Coltrane is ... “Liberia” seems like another “Night in Tunisia,” but the bridge is a static one-chord vamp, shades of both “Things” and modal jazz. He looks to the east with an oboe-like sound; Tyner goes deep on the block chords. A fine example of Trane’s restless spirit. “Body and Soul” gives the theme more force than usual; Tyner’s comp sounds like his work on “Four and One.” (Later that day they’d remake the tune, calling it “Mr. Day.”)
“Equinox” shines imperious, as Latin drums open on a weighty blues. The “Four and One” comps return, gracing Trane’s best solo of the set. The slides begin slowly, a confident tone with gradual grit. Nothing too fancy, and Tyner walks simply as it ends. But its sparsity speaks volumes. Then they leap in the stratosphere: “Satellite” starts with “How High the Moon,” then runs heavy through manic changes. Just him, bass, and drums, a format he did not try enough. (He did a few titles for Prestige; this beats them all easily.) It keeps getting better, quoting “Dearly Beloved” and ending with a drum flourish. A fine sendoff; this album, surprisingly understated, grows on you with different colors, a look at the future, and four men playing as one mind Trane’s. Pretty good for a rush job.
The out takes come from this session; they later appeared on posthumous albums. “26-2” (the second tune cut on the 26th) has a boppish theme but a fairly aimless solo. He’s trying to match the intimacy of the theme; I’m not sure he succeeds. The second “Body and Soul” has Tyner more prominent and a theme more thought than stated. McCoy is stronger here (the same gentle warmth of “My Favorite Things”) but Trane is uneven. He ends terrifically but the rest is a little bit weak. Nice additions, but unnecessary the album is fine by itself.
As he relates in his Coltrane biography Ascension, Eric Nisenson met Trane the first time when this album came out. He was in a club between shows, looking at the cover with much disapproval. Nisenson described the art as “cut-rate Picasso,” and I agree. Surely it was the only thing Trane disliked about this album.