a fascinating glimpse of a band that was rarely less than at the top of its game...
Peter Marsh 2002
This beautifully packaged set documents the first recordings of the famous 'classic quartet' of Coltrane, pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones; gathering together alternate takes and other performances (including one previously unheard Tyner original), Coltrane is a fascinating portrait of a band as a living, evolving entity.
The first CD is devoted to the original release, here remastered in shiny 24 bit digital glory. It kicks off with 14 minute modal sprawl of Harold Arlen's 'Out of This World' (a Coltrane favourite and a tune he would revisit for pretty much the rest of his life). Over a slinky, mantra like 6/8 groove, the saxophonist unwinds two long solos that alternate keening, soulful lines with sudden flurries of notes or cranked up overblowing.
Tyner's limpid chording is economical, percussive and sleekly propulsive; on the album's only ballad, Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes" he takes a short but delicate solo sandwiched between the leader's passionate statements. Though there are moments of intensity, the material here is cooler than the firestorms the quartet would be starting in a year or two on (or were already cooking up in performance).
"Inchworm" is another 6/8 modal outing; perhaps Coltrane was going for another "My Favourite Things" with this adaption of Frank Loesser's tune (first sung by Danny Kaye in the film Hans Christian Andersen). More substantial is the slow, dark swing of "Tunji", featuring a sonorous solo feature from Garrison.
These sessions were among the last in which Coltrane recorded several takes of a tune; CD 2 features four takes of "Tunji"; each one taken at a progressively slower pace. Though you probably wouldn't want to listen to them one after another, they're a fascinating glimpse of a band that was rarely less than at the top of its game (none of these takes deserved the cutting room floor as their fate).
Apart from the hitherto lost "Not yet" (a juicy slice of soul jazz with lucid, bluesy performances from Tyner and Coltrane), there are two early takes of "Impressions" (one of Coltrane's cut n' paste compositions), Trane's George Nicholas tribute "Big Nick" and the pianoless blues "Up 'Gainst the Wall". Though some of these have found their way onto compilations throughout the years, there's over 50 minutes of unheard Coltrane here, which makes it a must for the completist. Carl Woldeck's detailed liner notes are brilliant and the whole package reeks of the care and attention that you can expect from Impulse! at their best; recommended.