Coltrane's playing still has the blues at its heart.
Peter Marsh 2006
Traneing In (otherwise known as John Coltrane with the Red Garland Trio) is one of the classic Prestige era Coltrane dates, along with Soultrane and Blue Train. All were recorded with Garland, bassist Paul Chambers and either Art Taylor or Philly Joe Jones on drums. At the time of recording (August 1957) the saxophonist had just finished a residency at New Yorks Five Spot with Thelonious Monk and was clearly invigorated by the experience, judging by his playing here.
The title track was to become a bit of a tour de force in Coltrane live sets for some years; an altered blues powered by the cruise control swing of Chambers, Taylor and Garland features one of the saxophonist's classic performances. Though Coltrane's spiritual period was a few years off, his obsessive dissection of harmonic possibilities in his two solos points at the shapes of things to come; there's a definite sense of a man on a mission. (Famously Coltrane asked Miles how he could bring his solos to a close, feeling that there were too many ideas bubbling up inside him: Miles's suggestion was to 'take the goddamn horn out of your mouth'). For all the technical sophistication on show, Coltrane's playing still has the blues at its heart, soaking every single note he plays with a preacher's passion. Garland is joyous, swinging and intricate simultaneously throughout the session, sometimes echoing Bud Powell's effortless complexity.
As is usual with the Prestige dates, a couple of ballads are thrown in and here Coltrane demonstrates his mastery of the form; the pensive, little known "Slow Dance" is particularly gorgeous, with both Chambers and Coltrane emotionally charged. (The saxophonist obviously took Lester Young's assertion that to play a ballad with any meaning, the musician must know the lyrics). The bassist's doleful out of tempo introduction points to the stretched ballad forms that the classic quartet of Tyner, Jones, Coltrane and Garrison were to eke out a few years later, while the leader's distinctive honeyed tones could melt the coldest heart. "Bass Blues" (a Coltrane original) betrays a slight Monk influence; here Chambers is to the fore, turning out a gutsy bowed solo. The closing "Soft Lights and Sweet Music" is accelerated to a hyperspeed blur as Chambers and Taylor nudge Garland and Coltrane into furious solos; at the end someone (maybe Taylor) sighs 'whoo' as though unable to believe they made it all the way through.
One quibble; there's an appalling mastering error around 5 minutes into the title track where the tape slows down and drops out completely, which makes it a bit tricky to wholeheartedly recommend this particular issue; an essential part of any Coltrane collection nonetheless.