11

John Coltrane: My Favorite Things (Not Including “My Favorite Things”)

Matt J. Popham By

Sign in to view read count
Cannonball Adderley Quintet In Chicago (Mercury, 1959)—By 1959, Miles had welcomed the clean and sober Coltrane back into the fold, and within the year they would record and release the seminal Kind of Blue. But shortly before entering the studio, Coltrane and the rest of the Miles Davis Sextet ditched Miles to lay down this exuberant hard-bop barnburner. Rightfully credited to Adderley, as its overall sound is more in keeping with his light and lively style (though it would be rereleased five years later as Cannonball and Coltrane), these upbeat sessions gave both players a chance to cut loose from the quiet, cool reserve that had become Davis' signature sound. The quintet voraciously digs into Coltrane's compositions, "Grand Central" and "The Sleeper," as well as Adderley's "Wabash," and even the inclusion of two wistful ballads can't dampen the album's infectious enthusiasm and sense of fun.

Giant Steps (Atlantic, 1960)—One giant step for a man, one giant leap for the jazz genre. On Giant Steps, Coltrane launched the modal excursions he and Miles Davis had advanced on Kind of Blue into the stratosphere. A dense and dizzying delight, Giant Steps is poetry in motion (often very fast motion), each track seemingly more inspired than the last, balancing jaw-dropping virtuosity with cascading lyricism and soul. Coltrane had released a handful of solo albums prior to this one—including the ever-popular Blue Train—but Giant Steps is (to me, anyway) where his great journey really begins.

Ole' Coltrane (Atlantic, 1961)—Coltrane's revered 1961 album, My Favorite Things, marked another turning point in his career, featuring his whirling, modal reinvention of the popular Rodgers and Hammerstein tune, his first forays on soprano sax, and the debuts of both McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones as steady members of his lineup and, as such, it is justifiably regarded as a classic. But for all its charms, My Favorite Things is not one of my favorites. I far prefer his follow-up—and final recording for Atlantic—Ole' Coltrane (which, as far as I'm concerned, lacks its predecessor's historical significance only because it didn't come first). Lush and evocative where My Favorite Things was bright and breezy, the album offers one of Coltrane's most satisfying explorations of folk and world melodies, most notably the transcendent 18-minute title track, which gives haunting, expansive modal treatment to an old Spanish folk song, and features some breathtaking bass work from Reggie Workman and Art Davis (one bowing, while the other plucks and strums). Jones and Tyner have already made themselves at home, each providing solid backing and stunning solos (Tyner's "Aisha" remains one of his most enchantingly beautiful compositions). And finally, Ole' Coltrane marks the commencement of Coltrane's brief but fruitful collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy, who delivers star turns on flute and alto-sax.

Africa/Brass (Impulse!, 1961)—After his aforementioned outing with Art Blakey, Coltrane would only record twice more with a big band ensemble. The most celebrated of these recordings, 1965's Ascension, is an ecstatic free jazz milestone, but Africa/Brass, while perhaps less pioneering, is no less passionate or powerful. Notoriously panned by Downbeat magazine upon its release in 1961 ("What is Coltrane doing...?" was already becoming a common refrain among critics...), it has been reappraised in the decades since. Recorded as his debut for the burgeoning Impulse label at the same time he was recording Ole' Coltrane for Atlantic, Africa/Brass shares a consanguinity with that album in its folk/world music influence, and in the presence of Eric Dolphy (who, along with Tyner, handled the orchestration and arrangements, and also appears on alto-sax, flute, and bass clarinet). The blast furnace brass ensemble, boasting such luminaries as Booker Little and Freddie Hubbard, not only adds extra heat and muscle to the already dramatic compositions, but also augments Coltrane's increasingly innovative soloing surprisingly well. The 1995 Complete Africa Brass CD reissue is the one to own, as, in addition to some intriguing alternate takes, it also includes both "Song of the Underground Railroad" and "The Damned Don't Cry" which were left off the original pressing.

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane (Impulse!, 1962)—Duke Ellington was enjoying a resurgence in popularity in the early 1960's, and—never one to rest on his laurels—took advantage of the opportunity to break away from his tried and true Big Band formula and record in smaller groups with some of the genre's more modern vanguard (Coleman Hawkins, Max Roach, and Charles Mingus, among them). The results were uniformly excellent, but his sessions with Coltrane were some of the most surprising. While many expected an incongruous clash between Ellington's classic and Coltrane's more avant-garde styles, what resulted was an almost seamless melding of musical minds and one of the most captivatingly beautiful jazz albums ever recorded. Charming, playful—almost delicate, at times—their musical interactions sound as if they've been playing together for decades as they conjure new magic from several Ellington standards, as well as two newer compositions—Coltrane's sunny, sauntering "Big Nick" and Ellington's more angular tribute to his new collaborator, "Take the Coltrane." But it's their exquisite take on Billy Strayhorn's "Little Brown Book" that's the real stand-out, featuring some of the most poignant playing either has ever recorded.
About John Coltrane
Articles | Calendar | Discography | Photos | More...

Tags

Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and you'll support us in the process. Learn how.

Related Articles