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John Coltrane The Very Best Of The Atlantic Years Review

Compilation. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

'Trane's classic Atlantic sides collected together in one easy to consume package!

Martin Longley 2007

We only have 79 minutes in which to compress the highlights of Coltrane's years with the Atlantic label, so the going is set to be rough, with personal favourites omitted or obvious choices made. Surely this could have been a 2CD set! With only a lone disc at hand, it's best to sidestep the notion that this has to be a graven image of the monumental saxophonist during his peak early-1960s period. This selection is best viewed as an introduction that can't go wrong, and the listener's next move must be to seek out the original albums of the period.

Predictably and understandably, Giant Stepsdominates at first, with around one side's worth of the old vinyl included. This was Coltrane's debut for Atlantic in 1960, and its crucial title cut opens up, revealing the tenorman's soloing technique in a concise, intricate and passionate form. The story of this compilation (and possibly of the man himself) seems to be the contrasting of assertive speedsters, displaying technical (and emotional) prowess, with ballads that are so slow and introspective that they virtually hang suspended, in a state of gracefulness.

So, the diaphanous "Naima" is another representative from Giant Steps, eventually followed by the bluesy swaggering of "Mr. P.C." Often, it's the fairly rare presence of 'outsiders' that shocks, as with vibraphonist Milt Jackson's showing on "Stairway To The Stars", from the pair's Bags & Trane album. Following the Giant Steps tracks,
Coltrane's horn sounds fat and warm, so close it's lodged deep inside the cranium. And when Freddie Hubbard steps up to take a solo on the closing "Aisha" (a lone representative from 1962's Olé), the sudden stab of a trumpet comes as a thrilling surprise after so much quartet-based music.

"My Favorite Things" appears in its shortened single version, with Coltrane dancing on soprano saxophone, whilst he switches to alto on "Equinox", which still sounds like one
of his most forward-looking compositions. With Coltrane's work for the Impulse! label lurking just around the next corner, he would soon be setting himself free for an increased degree of sonic abstraction...

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