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Live Trane: Never Before, Never After

David Liebman By

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Meditations is a bit more focused than some of the ones I mentioned. I play the suite a lot and will this year in New York commemorating the 50th anniversary of Trane's passing. There are real melodies, but it's still basically a free recording. That was the first record of the real free stuff to be released and it kind of announced the new way of playing for those who were listening. After Meditations that's pretty much the end of the classic quartet. By November, they are recording Live in Seattle and that's when Elvin and McCoy left the band. Then the new group started and that's the core of the group I saw in Lincoln Center. The recording The John Coltrane Quartet Plays featured some groundbreaking tunes: "Nature Boy" "Chim Chim Chiree" and in particular, the track "Brazilia." The old was gone and a new set of understandings was taking place at this time in '66 to '67. To further complicate matters, there were recordings which were posthumously released, particularly Sun Ship and Transition. They really show the quartet in transition. You can hear musically that it was going in a new direction often featuring two drummers with Alice on piano along with Sanders who could really scream on the tenor. Elvin was not happy about having to share the bandstand with another drummer. Meanwhile, it appeared that McCoy couldn't hear himself with the two drummers bashing away. In summary, obviously, what I am saying may or may not be true, but for those of us fortunate enough to have seen John and the group frequently, it felt like there never was and never will be such a group... truly a happening unmatched before or since.
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