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John Coltrane: One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note

John Kelman By

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How times have changed. These days, when a group is to be recorded for broadcast, it's often at the mercy of the people making the recording. Sets have to be altered, sometimes significantly so, in order to package the performance so that it's "broadcast-ready. The process can be so intrusive that artists like guitarist Pat Metheny speak about self-editing when they know they're to be recorded.

Not so in 1965, when two separate performances of saxophonist John Coltrane's classic quartet were broadcast from New York's Half Note club as part of Alan Grant's weekly Portraits in Jazz radio show. Rather than having the group make any kind of concession, the broadcast was more akin to casually dropping in for 45 minutes, regardless of where the musicians were in their set. In the case of the March 26th performance, which takes up one of two CDs in this set, the group had already been playing the title track of One Down, One Up for 35 minutes when Grant began broadcasting, and was in the middle of "Afro Blue when the time was up, resulting in a fade-out.

Both sets are stunning in their energy and collective invention. With the watershed A Love Supreme already released, Coltrane was moving steadfastly towards a greater freedom that would ultimately see his quartet with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones dissolve. But at this point, while he was continuing to evolve his dense sheets of sound improvisational approach, expanding harmonic boundaries with fiery aplomb, his group was still swinging hard. Both "Song of Praise and "My Favourite Things, which make up the May 7 broadcast, are powerful evidence from a group whose individual voices added up to something far greater.

Most revealing is the title track, which occupies the lion's share of the March 26 broadcast. By the time Alan Grant made his introductory announcement, the tune was at the tail end of a solo by Garrison, one of his finest on record. But it's Coltrane's solo, taking up 27 minutes, that's the most significant. Few soloists before or after Coltrane could sustain a solo of this length, and it was his ability to take one idea, use repetition and extrapolation to build into the next—which would again be repeated and augmented into the next—that made him such a powerful improvisational force. This may not be a monumental revelation to Coltrane fans, but his uncharacteristic avoidance of the sheets of sound approach—playing instead with surprising restraint and considerably more singular focus—elevates this distinctive track to classic status.

One Down, One Up is as significant a release as the recently unearthed 1957 performance by Coltrane with Thelonious Monk on At Carnegie Hall—the perfect bookend, in fact. Coltrane's musical quest was recognizable almost from the beginning, and here—only two years before his premature passing—he was arguably at his creative apex, placing unencumbered exploration within an accessible post bop context.


Track Listing: CD1: Announcer/Bass Intro; One Down, One Up; Announcer; Afro Blue. CD2: Announcer; Song of Praise; Announcer; My Favourite Things.

Personnel: John Coltrane: tenor and soprano saxophones; McCoy Tyner: piano; Jimmy Garrison: bass; Elvin Jones: drums.

Title: One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Impulse!

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