John Coltrane The Rough Guide to John Coltrane: Birth of a Legend Review

Released 2012.  

BBC Review

A fine introduction to Coltrane’s best solo material and sideman work.

Martin Longley 2012

Amidst the reissue competition, this double-CD set stands out because of its tight focus. The Jazz and Blues Legends series is a sub-division of the Rough Guide imprint, presenting histories of single performers.

The first disc mainly draws from two of John Coltrane’s best albums, Blue Train (Blue Note, 1957) and Giant Steps (Atlantic, 1960). There is also a pair of cuts from his eponymous 1957 debut album on the Prestige label.

All of Blue Train’s A side is included, with the title tune and Moment’s Notice both around 10 minutes long. Both feature a starry sextet, with Blue Train giving the entire combo extensive soloing opportunities. The jovially smeared trombone of Curtis Fuller and Coltrane’s launching gush stand out.

Ballads alternate with speedsters on disc 1, so Moment’s Notice re-engages in the chase after the peacefulness of While My Lady Sleeps. Coltrane’s tenor lines are supple and twisting once again, and there’s a very brief but gripping bowed bass solo from Paul Chambers.

The Giant Steps material benefits from the capturing of a more robust tenor sound. Five of the original album’s seven tracks are included, and its key selections provide a wonderful contrast. The calm, contemplative Naima is followed by its opposite number: the dense and complex Giant Steps.

The whole set features Coltrane on tenor saxophone, prior to his increased involvement with soprano in the 1960s. An integral part of this series concept is to include a bonus disc, which in this instance is Trane In Session, collecting his sideman work prior to, and alongside, recording solo.

This is an appealing move, airing tunes from the bands of Miles Davis (a classic chaser), Thelonious Monk (crankily ambling intimacy between the pianist and Coltrane), Art Blakey (apocalyptic big band) and Cannonball Adderley (urban restlessness).

There’s also the lesser-known drummer Art Taylor with a rolling Jimmy Heath tune, plus a sensitive duo dialogue between Coltrane and guitarist Kenny Burrell, operating in the warmly sonorous regions.

Overall, this is a fine introduction to Coltrane, with disc 2 providing particularly useful background.

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