Monday, March 9, 2020

McCoy Tyner Trio - 1962 - Inception

McCoy Tyner Trio

01. Inception 4:18
02. There Is No Greater Love 6:07
03. Blues For Gwen 4:16
04. Sunset 4:30
05. Effendi 6:23
06. Speak Low 6:05

Bass – Art Davis
Drums – Elvin Jones
Piano – McCoy Tyner
Producer – Bob Thiele

Recorded at the Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on January 10 (tracks 1, 4, 5) and 11 (tracks 2, 3, 6), 1962.

Those familiar with the dense, percussive style that pianist McCoy Tyner has cultivated since the 1970s onwards may be surprised by what they hear on Inception. Like Reaching Fourth and Nights of Ballads and Blues, this album gives listeners the chance to hear what a very young Tyner sounded like outside the confines of the classic John Coltrane quartet of the early '60s; it reveals a lyrical approach to jazz piano that seems a far cry from Tyner's mature style. The choice of material is fairly evenly split between modal pieces like "Inception" and more harmonically involved tunes like "Speak Low," and the pianist's treatment of both demonstrates the extent to which his early work was rooted in bebop. Tyner had yet to develop the massive orchestral sound and highly distinctive vocabulary of modal licks that would mark his later style, and throughout this album he spins dizzyingly long and singing lines with an exquisitely light touch. The irresistible rush of forward momentum that he maintains on tracks like "Effendi" and "Blues for Gwen" is breathtaking, and there is an exuberant, almost athletic quality to much of his solo work. Bassist Art Davis and drummer Elvin Jones provide superb accompaniment throughout, and they lay a solid rhythmic foundation for Tyner's sparkling melodic flights. The pianist's penchant for drama, which asserts itself more strongly in his later work, is on brief display in the original ballad "Sunset"; his skills as an arranger, though evident on several tracks, are perhaps best illustrated by the intricate contrapuntal treatment of "There Is No Greater Love."

Though two tracks from October 1960 were previously issued under McCoy Tyner's name, they were outtakes from John Coltrane dates where the saxophonist sat out. Inception marks the pianist's first proper release as bandleader, with the sessions for Impulse! taking place at Rudy Van Gelder's studio on January 10 and 11, 1962. Of the set's six tracks, four are Tyner compositions, with "Effendi" becoming something of a modern jazz standard and embraced, most notably, by pianist Ahmad Jamal.

A trio setting with bassist Art Davis and drummer Elvin Jones, Inception is a strong debut, though not necessarily indicative of the monster player Tyner would become. His fleet-fingered, lyrical right hand is in full force but the thundering left hand, which would become something of his trademark, is not really evident here, partly due to the material, which is a bit more subdued when compared to the raucous repertoire that busied Tyner in his regular job at the time: manning the piano bench for Coltrane. That said, ballads and slower blues, like many of those on Inception, have remained an important part of Tyner's songbook throughout his career.

The program does pick up intensity as it progresses, with "Effendi" and the pianist's album-closing take on Kurt Weil and Ogden Nash's "Speak Low" highlighting Jones' percolating drum work, Tyner's dexterity and the symbiosis shared between them.

Freddie Hubbard - 1962 - Ready For Freddie

Freddie Hubbard 
Ready For Freddie

01. Arietis
02. Weaver Of Dreams
03. Marie Antoinette
04. Birdlike
05. Crisis

Bass – Art Davis
Drums – Elvin Jones
Euphonium – Bernard McKinney
Piano – McCoy Tyner
Tenor Saxophone – Wayne Shorter
Trumpet – Freddie Hubbard

Wayne Shorter performs by courtesy of Vee-Jay Records.

Recorded on August 21, 1961.

One of the greatest trumpeters to ever play jazz, Freddie Hubbard was a dynamo, teeming with passion and imagination. His fervid hard bop playing matured into an original voice after he grew out of his Clifford Brown infatuation and emulation, garnering him the DownBeat New Star award in the magazine’s 1961 Critics Poll.

Once he moved from his hometown of Indianapolis to New York in 1958 at the age of 20, Freddie thrust himself into the thick of action on the hyperactive, hypercreative jazz scene, which often meant long club nights of multiple sets and heady blowing competition. He managed to not only stay in shape during the ‘60s, but he also found himself chosen to be a worthy contributor to classic jazz sessions by the titans of the genre at the time. A sampler: Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz; John Coltrane’s Olé Coltrane and Africa/Brass (and later Ascension); Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch; Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage; Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil; and Oliver Nelson’s The Blues and the Abstract Truth. Freddie also jumped aboard Art Blakey’s fiery Jazz Messengers train in 1961, replacing Lee Morgan and linking up with Shorter as the band’s formidable frontline.

Freddie arguably became the most active trumpeter of the ‘60s era when his home base was Blue Note Records, both as a leader and as a session man. He recorded nine albums at the helm for the label and appeared on nearly thirty albums as a band member. His first three albums for Blue Note (1960’s Open Sesame and Goin’ Up; and 1961’s Hub Cap) served to introduce the new kid in town to the greater jazz world. But by the time he recorded his fourth date, Freddie was fully prepared to put on display his high-flying self. The apropos-titled Ready for Freddie—produced by Alfred Lion and recorded on August 21, 1961 at Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs, N.J., studio—certainly showcases the 24-year-old youngster geared up and prepared for the top-tier jazz life. In fact, Ready for Freddie jump-started the trumpeter’s career as a force to be reckoned with. He was truly ready and not to be denied.

The date features Freddie leading an unusual instrumental sextet that included Bernard McKinney on the mellow-toned euphonium, a tuba family instrument that was rare for jazz. Freddie knew Bernard (later known as Kiane Zawadi) from their days working with Slide Hampton’s octet. Odd as it was in that day, Freddie was breaking out and wanted to have that baritone-like tonal quality to blend with his horn and the urgent yet smooth tenor saxophone of Wayne Shorter. This was the first recording studio meeting of Wayne and Freddie, who had linked up a few days earlier in Blakey’s new sextet version of the Jazz Messengers for a live recording at the Village Vanguard.

The rhythm section was also comprised of youngsters that Freddie had worked with on Olé: pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Art Davis and drummer Elvin Jones. Looking back to that period, it’s remarkable that Freddie had enlisted a band with most of its members becoming top-drawer improvisers who would go down in jazz history heralded as significant figures.

Ready for Freddie opens with the uptempo “Arietis” (a Freddie original playing off his astrological sign Aries) with the trumpeter’s rapid-fire, lofty lines that reach peak after peak followed by Wayne’s down-to-earth sharp tenor swirls and spins, Bernard’s velvet-toned reflection and McCoy’s distinctive pianistic sparkle. That’s followed by Freddie’s gorgeous balladic trumpeting on the drum-brushed Victor Young beauty “Weaver of Dreams” where the leader accelerates midway to pleasant affect. Already making his compositional brilliance well-known in Blakey’s band, Wayne brings to this session “Marie Antoinette” (his fantasy of how fanciful life was like on the royal throne before the French Revolution’s guillotine climax) which he and Freddie deliver with a bounce and boom—Wayne playing brusque brass and light whimsy while Freddie smilingly skips through his chorus with emphatic notes.

Side 2 of the session opens with a tribute to bop’s founding father, Charlie Parker. While Freddie speeds with bop intensity on “Birdlike,” he’s also playing beyond the bebop genre on this rhythmic cooker that features well-developed choruses, not just blowing bouts—thus the “like” in the song title. The album closes with the striking and sober “Crisis,” written by the leader amidst the heightened Cold War tensions of the Soviet Union and the U.S. toying with the prospect of nuclear annihilation. It’s the longest track on the five-song album and also features Elvin letting rip with an intensive drum solo.

In the original line notes by Nat Hentoff written at the time of the session, he says that “Freddie will surely continue to develop…[and] he has already started to make a striking personal impact on the jazz scene.” The sentiment is stated in a hopeful way, noting how Freddie was “persistently searching.” But no doubt Nat could have never imagined the rich future that lay ahead for the youngster from Indianapolis. Ready for Freddie proved to be the launching pad for the trumpeter’s imminent career triumphs.

Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard really came into his own during this Blue Note session. He is matched with quite an all-star group (tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Art Davis, and drummer Elvin Jones in addition to Bernard McKinney on euphonium), introduces two of his finest compositions ("Birdlike" and "Crisis"), and is quite lyrical on his ballad feature, "Weaver of Dreams." Hubbard's sidemen all play up to par and this memorable session is highly recommended; it's one of the trumpeter's most rewarding Blue Note albums.

John Coltrane - 1962 - Coltrane Plays The Blues

John Coltrane 
Coltrane Plays The Blues

01. Blues To Elvin 7:52
02. Blues To Bechet 5:44
03. Blues To You 6:25
04. Mr. Day 7:56
05. Mr. Syms 5:19
06. Mr. Knight 7:30
Bonus Tracks
07. Untitled Original (Exotica) 5:21
08. Blues To Elvin (Alternate Take 1) 10:58
09. Blues To Elvin (Alternate Take 3) 5:51
10. Blues To You (Alternate Take 1) 5:32
11. Blues To You (Alternate Take 2) 5:25

Bass – Steve Davis
Drums – Elvin Jones
Piano – McCoy Tyner (tracks: 1, 4 to 9)
Soprano Saxophone – John Coltrane (tracks: 2, 5)
Tenor Saxophone – John Coltrane (tracks: 1, 3, 4, 6 to 11)

Recorded October, 1960.

Original MONO pressing released in 1962 is on red/purple label with white band, black printing and white fan logo on right.

Below are the liner notes from the original LP release:

Since John Coltrane left the Miles Davis group and began playing the soprano saxophone, his reputation as performer and leader, as well as the controversy surrounding his work, has revolved largely around his status as an experimenter and leader of the jazz avant-garde. This is, of course, legitimate enough, but those who place emphasis on the experimental, particularly Coltrane's detractors, ignore the point that like another controversial musician, Coltrane's friend Ornette Coleman, John's work is quite firmly based in jazz tradition.

When Coltrane plays a club, it is always particularly interesting to hear the last set of the evening. Earlier sets will almost invariably find him playing the two pieces on which his reputation with his most recently converted fans is based, My Favorite Things and Greensleeves. With these, he established himself as the most important jazz soprano saxophonist since Sidney Bechet and Johnny Hodges, and affected a general renaissance of the instrument. People expect to hear these two tunes, and since the pieces still fascinate Coltrane, he always complies. The last set, however, generally starts at around two in the morning, when the audience is composed of hardcore believers. Coltrane almost always chooses to play tenor that set, and almost always plays the blues. One such blues, which may not even have a theme, sometimes serves as the basis for an entire thirty or forty-minute set. At these times, Coltrane is startling in his affinity to the rhythm-and-blues players in the local clubs across the country – not that he honks or screeches, but in the depth of his intensity and in the similarity of his feeling. To hear him play at such times, and to watch his concentration, can be a nearly shattering experience.

By now, as the avant-garde controversy rages around him, some tend to forget that Coltrane's great initial reputation was made as a blues player. Almost without
exception, the dominant jazzmen of our time - Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, the members of the MJQ – have strikingly personal approaches to the blues. So has Coltrane, who is by now an all-pervasive influence on the jazz scene. One of his early recordings, Blue Train, is a nearly classic example of his style, and a powerful, almost menacing performance. Indelibly impressed on the minds of many listeners are the blues performances of the Miles Davis Quintet and the Thelonious Monk Quartet, when Coltrane's tumultuous outpouring of notes provided brilliant contrast to the sparse, classic styles of the leaders.

After Coltrane formed his own group, he understandably showed somewhat less preoccupation with blues. In his new position as leader, he wanted variety in his material, and searched for different ways to make his music, in the word he is fond of using, "presentable." He became more involved with composition, which inevitably led to pieces in different forms. His researches into Indian music and the raga led to concern with the problem of playing pieces which contained as few chords as possible, Again, it was easy to forgot that Coltrane has written several blues in a dark minor style that is a trademark with him and that has been quite widely imitated.

For all these reasons, it is a great pleasure to see the appearance of the present album at this time. I doubt that it was recorded in an attempt to prove any sort of a point. If Coltrane takes any attitude toward his critics, it is one of puzzlement, as he sees himself highly praised for the same reasons which others employ to dismiss him. Further, Coltrane is a quiet, rather shy man, almost the antithesis of his music, who tends to find what he plays far less exceptional than do his listeners.

He is quite certain, though, about what he wants, and this is reflected in his choice of associates. The "lyricism," as he terms it, is supplied by the heavily chordal pianist, McCoy Tyner. Since he sometimes plays without piano, as on two numbers in this set, it is important that the bassist, Steve Davis, has an acute knowledge of harmony. Perhaps the most remarkable member of the group, aside from Coltrane himself, is the fantastically complex Elvin Jones, probably the most challenging drummer now playing. When someone once remarked that many musicians would be unable to play with Elvin, Coltrane answered, "Sometimes I can't play with him." There are several notable examples in modern jazz of unusual empathy between soloist and drummer – Thelonious Monk and Art Blakey; Sonny Rollins and Max Roach; Miles Davis and Philly Joe Jones – and certainly the Coltrane-Elvin Jones combination is as unique as these.

All the pieces on this set are by Coltrane, and the album is unusual in that the feeling of sameness that could have so easily resulted from the same four men playing six blues has been neatly avoided. Quite subjectively, I find the album contains considerably more variety than many sets of standards and originals recorded by five and six-piece groups.

Blues To Elvin opens with a near-gospel piano figure, followed by Coltrane on tenor in one of his most basic blues solos of recent years, similar to the startling work he was doing in the late fifties, with only the occasional use of harmonics to mark it as a more recent performance. This track alone is a more meaningful credential than most blues players can produce.

Blues To Bechet played on soprano saxophone and accompanied only by bass and drums, is, for this listener, the favorite of the set. In his short, simple phrases, Coltrane hauntingly evokes Bechet, gradually leading into a passage which is an accurate definition of the advances he has introduced on the instrument, and then returning briefly to the traditional style shortly before the close.

The furiously paced Blues To You, played on tenor without piano, is strictly contemporary Coltrane. It reflects a performance practice he is fond of in clubs, stretching the basic blues harmonies to the limits of atonality, and then culminating the excitement in exchanges with Elvin Jones.

Mr. Day is the best example on the set of the hypnotic use to which Coltrane puts bass and piano behind his own instant frenzy. The piece itself is in the Eastern-minor vein of such other of his compositions as Dahomey Dance.

Mr. Syms, which again features soprano saxophone, is cast in a form Coltrane has made striking' use of in the past: the minor blues with a bridge. In this instance, the bridge is quite similar to Summertime, a favorite Coltrane piece. He limits himself here to opening and closing melodic statements which frame a McCoy Tyner solo.

The final track, Mr. Knight, is in its piano figure and rhythmic basis, a synthesis of West Indian and African music, To this, building on a theme employing a bare minimum of notes, Coltrane adds his own Indian-influenced approach, making a unique cultural-musical blend.

Each of these tracks is fascinating in itself, replete with the emotional commitment which is perhaps Coltrane's single most identifiable quality. When placed together, as they are here, the six pieces not only comprise an unusual and satisfying listening experience, but effectively document the fact that one of the most restless experimenters in jazz has far from exhausted the possibilities of the music's oldest form.


Coltrane Plays the Blues is one of my favorite recordings by the master saxophonist. Coltrane was in a comfort zone anytime he was playing the blues as he shows throughout this album. The opening track on the album is entitled "Blues to Elvin". Its a rarity because it was composed by Elvin Jones and I'm pretty sure it was the only tune he wrote during his tenure in Coltrane's band. The opening seconds of that tune can grab your attention instantly as McCoy Tyner plays some beautiful bluesy notes. The next tune, "Blues to Bechet" is a tribute song to the late Sidney Bechet. Coltrane fittingly plays Soprano and does so in a trio format taking a page out of Sonny Rollins book by having just saxophone, bass, and drums. My favorite tune from this album is "Mr. Syms". Its an incredible blues piece with Trane playing soprano again. Coltrane fans will find it similar to two other originals of his titled "Equinox" and "Village Blues". I also enjoyed a bonus track entitled "Exotica". Its not in a blues form at all but it still seems to fit with the rest of the album and once again Coltrane is performing on Soprano. This particular release has 4 alternate takes but it is now out of print. If you can find this specific version for a good price don't hesitate to buy it. This is one of Coltrane's best!

John Coltrane - 1962 - Live At The Village Vanguard

John Coltrane
Live At The Village Vanguard

01. Spiritual 13:30
02. Softly As In A Morning Sunrise 6:25
03. Chasin' The Trane 15:55

Bass – Reggie Workman
Bass Clarinet – Eric Dolphy (tracks: A1)
Drums – Elvin Jones
Piano – McCoy Tyner
Soprano Saxophone – John Coltrane (tracks: A1, A2)
Tenor Saxophone – John Coltrane (tracks: B)

Recorded at The Village Vanguard, NYC, November 2 and 3, 1961

This set documents the four-night stand by John Coltrane (sax) and his quintet at the Village Vanguard in New York City, November 1 -- 5, 1961. Although these are not newly discovered tapes -- as the majority of the selections have turned up on no less than five separate releases -- their restoration is significant in assessing motifs in Coltrane's [read: multi-show] live appearances. Coltrane is accompanied by an all-star ensemble of Eric Dolphy (alto sax/bass clarinet), Garvin Bushell (oboe/contrabassoon), Ahmed Abdul-Malik (oud), McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass), Reggie Workman (bass), Elvin Jones (drums), and Roy Haynes (drums). Their presence is as equally vital as Coltrane's -- inspiring as well as informing the dimensions of improvisation. With the knowledge that the entire run was being documented to create some sort of retail document, Coltrane chose nine specific compositions to concentrate on. The choice of material likewise had a tremendous impact on the personnel of the band -- evidenced by Bushnell's contributions during "Spiritual" and Abdul-Malik's within the context of the extended "India." Each set bears its own distinctive shading and emphasis. Parties wishing to hear the run in its entirety are encouraged to check out the multi-disc Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings (1997) as there are multiple takes of the same songs. This allows even the most unsophisticated jazz consumer the opportunity to note the difference in the various versions, while contrasting the player's widely diverse performance styles. The highly recommended box set also includes a nine-panel fold out poster, 48-page liner notes booklet -- with a complete discography for the included material -- and other ephemera, such as rarely published photographs.

Coltrane's made so many live albums that I can't blame you for being a little confused as to which ones are essential and which ones aren't. I'll have a list about that up eventually, but in the meantime, I'll tell you this: if you only get one, make it this one. It's of that rare breed of live album that isn't just really, really nice to have around, but absolutely cannot be done without. It's an absolutely essential piece of the picture, not just for Coltrane's career, but for jazz in general.

I mean, will anyone argue with me if I say that free jazz as we know it began with "Chasin' the Trane?" Now, I know that Ornette Coleman pioneered the genre, and I'm definitely not going to step on his achievements - I did write a novel named after Free Jazz's subtitle ("A Collective Improvisation," FYI [that novel blows. Fuck that novel]), so you know I'm a fan - but the levels of spiritual intensity that are present in the works of Pharaoh Sanders, Albert Ayler, etc. aren't found there, or at least not to the degree that they're found on "Chasin' the Trane." It's easily one of Coltrane's best pieces ever. It's also, on an objective level, one of the most self-indulgent things I've ever heard. It's basically just Trane soloing for sixteen consecutive minutes. But the solo is breathtaking. Seriously, the man does everything you can possibly do with a saxophone there, and some things that I thought you couldn't do. I've never heard anyone approach the instrument like Coltrane does, which is probably why I'm such a big fan in the first place.

And those other two aren't too shabby either, are they? "Spiritual" is just as mind-blowing as "Chasin' the Trane." It's a riveting, appropriately prayer-like song that offers more and more to me every time I hear it. So much emotion, so much texture, so much raw, unfettered emotion... holy shit. I mean, even the worst song here is still brilliant in its own way - "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise," despite having a lovely piano solo and great interplay between Trane and my man Eric Dolphy, just can't stack up to the other two massive tunes it's positioned in between. But then, what could? It's still an awesome song in its own right, after all.

Speakin' of Dolphy, certain editions of this come with "Impressions" and "India" as bonus tracks, and that really solidifies this as a five-star in my mind. If you're looking for a version of this, but don't feel like splurging on The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings, try to find that one. Actually, since that version is sadly out of print (Live at the Village Vanguard: The Master Takes is its name, for those with easy access to out-of-print stuff), I'd recommend you snatch up a copy of Impressions and make yourself a playlist of the songs contained here plus "Impressions" and "India." Because those two are absolutely fantastic in their own right. Armed with little more than his trusty bass clarinet, Dolph actually upstages Trane on "India," turning it into a hypnotic, fascinating experience that inspired the Byrds to write "Eight Miles High," while "Impressions" uses the "So What" groove as the launch pad for a dizzying sax duel between John and Eric. That is, in my opinion, the best way to hear this album outside of the boxed set.

What else can I say, really? It's a highlight even for the Coltrane discography, and since Coltrane is my single favorite musician, that is quite a statement coming from me. If you have even a passing interest in jazz, you need to pick this up as soon as you can.

Curtis Fuller - 1962 - Images Of Curtis Fuller

Curtis Fuller 
Images Of Curtis Fuller

01. Daryl's Minor
02. Accident
03. Be Back
04. Images
05. Ta-Reckla
06. Judy-Ful

Bass – Jimmy Garrison, Milt Hinton
Drums – Bobby Donaldson, Clifford Jarvis
Piano – McCoy Tyner
Tenor Saxophone, Flute – Yusef Lateef
Trombone – Curtis Fuller
Trumpet – Lee Morgan, Wilbur Harden

Recorded June 6 & 7, 1960, New York, NY

First of Fuller's three 1960 outings. Not too surprisingly, this is hard bop with a strong melodic emphasis - 'New Date' and 'Darryl's Minor' give room for extended piano and brass solos - McCoy Tyner's harmonic runs subtly enforcing the leads, 'Be Back Ta-Reckla' encourages Yusef Lateef to step forward with his kinky scale teasing the brass and rhythm section to go wherever he wishes. Equally as pleasing for Curtis's arranging and band leader skills as it is for the overall aural experience, 'Images...' sets up Fuller for a very pleasing and productive year ahead, 'Judyful' the pinnacle of a charming agreeable set.

The flute in hard bop. Most love it or hate it. Very difficult instrument to be indifferent towards. It's sounds carries such a distinct essence. Often dates a recording, perhaps unfairly.

Yusef Lateef is the flautist on this record, in addition to his tenor duties. Lee Morgan pops up on most tracks, as does Milt Hinton. We even get Jimmy Garrison for a take. And, of course, McCoy Tyner warms the piano bench the whole time...

Solid line-up, lovely engineering and production, strong hard bop writing and arranging from bandleader and trombonist Curtis Fuller. Pay special attention to 'Be Back Ta-Reckla' and 'Judyful'.

John Coltrane - 1962 - Olé Coltrane

John Coltrane 
Olé Coltrane 

01. Olé 18:05
02. Dahomey Dance 10:50
03. Aisha 7:32

Alto Saxophone – George Lane (tracks: B1, B2) (Eric Dolphy)
Bass – Art Davis (tracks: A, B1), Reggie Workman
Drums – Elvin Jones
Flute – George Lane (tracks: A)
Piano – McCoy Tyner
Soprano Saxophone – John Coltrane (tracks: A)
Tenor Saxophone – John Coltrane (tracks: B1, B2)
Trumpet – Freddie Hubbard

When Coltrane entered the studio to record Olé Coltrane, he did so after he’d already had his first recording session for his new label, Impulse! Records, but he still owed Atlantic Records another album, so back into A&R Studios he went, taking with him the other four members of his quintet – drummer Elvin Jones, bassist Reggie Workman, pianist McCoy Tyner, and flautist / saxophonist Eric Dolphy – along with bassist Art Davis and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, both of whom had worked with Coltrane on his previous album, Africa/Brass. (Dolphy is actually listed as George Lane in the original credits so as to avoid any legal wrangling with Prestige Records, to which Dolphy was contracted at the time.)

There are all of three songs on Olé Coltrane – “Olé” (18 minutes, 17 seconds), “Dahomey Dance” (10 minutes, 53 seconds), and “Aisha” (7 minutes, 40 seconds) – but you can’t judge a jazz album by its number of tracks. As John Ballon wrote of the album on, “Olé Coltrane successfully navigates the line between Trane's sonically challenging later years and his earlier accessibility; a magnificent milestone in Trane's artistic growth, this is an essential recording for any collection.”

Olé Coltrane is in part a product of that exploration of the larger ensemble, and the two albums were indeed recorded within days of each other with quite a bit of overlapping personnel, but it still maintains the sound of a more compact combo. This makes for an unusual and engaging listen: the number and type of soloists taking turns at cracking the theme of the opening number, “Olé”, expands the piece’s sonic palette and holds your attention over the 18-plus minute running time, while the core group churning behind the soloists keeps the proceedings simultaneously tight and agile.

That central rhythmic unit includes two upright bassists, Reggie Workman and Art Davis, each trading between arco (bowing) and pizzicato (plucking) techniques. This double-double bass setup is rare in jazz, even to this day, and it provides a lot of the aural character that makes Olé Coltrane so mesmerizing. Pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones round out the ‘rhythm’ section. Both had been working with Coltrane since late 1959, and they’d served as half of the lineup for one of Coltrane’s most mythic releases, 1961’s My Favorite Things. Both would also go on to serve under Coltrane and alongside bassist Jimmy Garrison in what would arguably become the greatest jazz combo of all time, the Love Supreme-era quartet. Each is as brilliant as ever on “Olé”; Tyner is constantly probing into the belly of the piece while still maintaining an air of stateliness, while Jones is roiling and thunderous one minute, measured and even-handed the next.

The solo spots on “Olé” start with the leader himself on soprano sax via a short melodic statement: deep, full-throated and heavily imbued with the Spanish flavor that sets the pace for the ensemble. Eric Dolphy follows on flute. Dolphy never did seem content to play things too straight, which means the otherworldly sounds he creates here are exactly the kind of unexpected approach you’d know was heading your way, and though his turn is brief it is highly spirited and constantly in motion. It’s de-centering in all the best ways. The rich sustained notes of Freddie Hubbard and his trumpet come next; Hubbard has great control over his dynamics, and his phrasing is like a natural extension of the human voice, making for an especially poignant musical statement. After Hubbard’s turn the rhythm team gets a shot. Tyner starts out with a long wind-up, then uncorks some quick runs, darting back and forth before grabbing great handfuls of keys once again. Davis and Workman then trade off the spotlight, even moving together in a sort of duet momentarily, and the sound is mysterious enough to send chills up the spine. Coltrane returns as the bassists drop back into a steadier pulse, just after the 13 minute mark, and it’s a vintage example of his vision: yearning, seeking, always in control yet somehow sounding just on the verge of chaos. His sound is ferocious and beautiful. He practically seems to be straining against the limitations of his own instrument. Coltrane is reaching for notes that aren’t there but he hits them anyway, and you’ll hear them loud and clear with an open heart, ears be damned.

The work of those soloists also highlights the piece as a noteworthy vehicle for melodic exploration via musical modes. Instead of relying on complex chord changes, the backbone of the piece is relatively simple, allowing the group to explore within a shifting framework of scales. Again, this pitches the album somewhere between Coltrane’s early bebop work, reliant more on the juxtaposition of chords, and his late-era recordings, which would be extremely free in a structural sense.

Although “Olé” is a definite highpoint of Olé Coltrane, the second half of the album acquits itself well. Track number two, “Dahomey Dance,” harkens a bit more toward the leader’s earlier Atlantic sides. Dolphy switches to alto saxophone, and Coltrane to tenor. Together with Hubbard, they lay out the main theme, flying in formation without bunching together too tightly. The piece has an easy, loping swing; the mood is cool, blue, and that remains true as the soloists heat up. Even as Dolphy starts to pull in all directions at once, the overall effect is never knotted or tense. That’s just the way this particular cookie happens to crumble. Overall, then, the track isn’t necessarily traditional, but it does feel familiar. If it weren’t for the dual bass interplay, it wouldn’t sound so out of place among, say, Coltrane’s collaborations with Miles Davis.

The last selection, “Aisha,” is unusual in that it was penned by Tyner, making it one of only two of the pianist’s tracks that Coltrane would record during their long and productive tenure together. A ballad with space to spare, this track represents an even more exaggerated step away from the insistency of this album’s opening number. A gradual downward slope in intensity over the course of Olé Coltrane is its great structural triumph, as it allows full investment in every phase and unreserved emotional commitment without causing listening fatigue. This dip in pace (but absolutely not conviction) owes a lot to Tyner’s lovely composition and the sympathetic solo turns, without a doubt. Note also that the dual bassist lineup is not replicated here, as Workman takes over sole duty on the low end; this shift further helps to imbue “Aisha” with an understated serenity. The overall effect is a spare and open work that manages to retain a weighty sense of soul. By way of comparison, I think the results can be viewed as not all that dissimilar from, say, “Naima,” which must rank as one of Coltrane’s loveliest compositions. To say that this track is in that same rarefied air is not hyperbole.

Olé Coltrane is a personal favorite, and one that I truly believe a patient listener will find great reward in, but practically anything that Coltrane recorded is worth your time and consideration. He covered a vast stretch of sonic territory over more than a decade of studio cuts, helping to redefine the jazz idiom along the way, and this provides ample opportunity to hone in on a particular approach or era that suits your tastes.

John Coltrane - 1961 - The Complete Africa / Brass Sessions

John Coltrane 
The Complete Africa / Brass Sessions

Original Album:

01. Africa 16:26
02. Greensleeves 9:55
03. Blues Minor 7:20

Complete Sessions:

01. Greensleeves 9:57
02. Song Of The Underground Railroad 6:44
03. Greensleeves (Alternate Take) 10:53
04. The Damned Don't Cry 7:34
05. Africa (First Version) 14:08
06. Blues Minor 7:20
07. Africa (Alternate Take) 16:08
08. Africa 16:29

Recorded at the Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ
on May 23, 1961 (disc one) and June 4, 1961 (disc two).

Alto Saxophone, Flute, Bass Clarinet – Eric Dolphy
Baritone Saxophone – Pat Patrick
Bass – Reggie Workman
Drums – Elvin Jones
Euphonium – Carl Bowman (tracks: 2-1 to 2-3), Charles Greenlee (tracks: 1-1 to 1-5), Julian Priester (tracks: 1-1 to 1-5)
French Horn – Donald Corrado, Jimmy Buffington (tracks: 1-1 to 1-5), Julius Watkins, Bob Northern, Robert Swisshelm
Piano – McCoy Tyner
Piccolo Flute, Reeds – Garvin Bushell (tracks: 1-1 to 1-5)
Soprano Saxophone – John Coltrane (tracks: 1-1 to 1-5)
Tenor Saxophone – John Coltrane
Trombone – Britt Woodman (tracks: 2-1 to 2-3)
Trumpet – Booker Little, Freddie Hubbard (tracks: 1-1 to 1-5)
Tuba – Bill Barber

In late May 1961, Creed Taylor the man who had founded the impulse! label a few months earlier, took John Coltrane into Rudy Van Gelder’s studio for his first session with the new up and coming label to record Africa/Brass, it was a master stroke!

Taylor persuaded John Coltrane to record at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio, but not with just his regular quintet. He got ‘Trane to work with a big band, 17 pieces on one track, including French horns and a euphonium. Instead of Oliver Nelson, who had originally been slated to arrange the music for the two sessions it was Eric Dolphy and McCoy Tyner, Coltrane’s pianist, that pulled off some brilliant twists and turns for what became impulse! AS-6 – Africa/Brass.

Coltrane had not been in a recording studio as a leader since October 1960 for the sessions for, My Favorite Things, although in March 1961, he made what were his last recorded contributions for Miles Davis.

Coltrane had got Eric Dolphy to join his band in early 1961, which made it a quintet. For the original release of Africa/Brass there were just three tracks. The whole of side one being taken up with ‘Africa’ that was first tried at the May session before the version heard on the album was recorded on 7 June.

Beside Coltrane was Dolphy who played alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute, was the arranger and the conductor. It’s a stunning tour de force, the ensemble playing has so much clarity and precision, so much so that Down Beat in its review said, “In these pieces, Coltrane has done on record what he has done so often in person lately, make everything into a handful of chords, frequently only two or three, turning them in every conceivable way.”

They also recorded ‘Blue Minor’ the second track on Side Two which is as exciting, as it is technically flawless, with a Tyner solo to relish. The first track on side two, recorded at the May session was Coltrane’s take on the old English folk song, ‘Greensleeves’, but like you’ve never heard it before. This is quintessential Coltrane.

It’s perhaps no surprise that John Coltrane wanted to do something different upon moving to the Impulse label after a long association with Atlantic.

No surprise, either, that it might be a recording with a larger aggregate behind him. That was, and is, the style of the day when jazzers seek to get out of the box a bit.

Leave it to Coltrane to turn all of that on its ear with “Africa/Brass,” a 1961 release that — because of its orchestration — is at once rumbling and mellow, rather than swinging and bright. Coltrane hand picked a back-up group that featured only trumpets, trombones, French horns, tuba and euphoniums (a rarely used baritone horn).

Pianist McCoy Tyner, who even then had such burnished layering in his block-style approach, led Coltrane to this place. And it marked the beginning of a period of deep introspection and startling experimentation over the six years that remained before Coltrane’s tragic, too-soon passing.

Coltrane’s only Impulse recording with legendary producer Creed Taylor, “Africa/Brass” actually includes, in all but one tune, charts by future Coltrane regular Eric Dolphy — who listened intently to Tyner, and matched his texture and style. These music sheets were created from rough sketches by Coltrane, and workshopped right in the studio.

In this way, Coltrane kept the basic quartet approach, despite having all those other guys in the room. The close-knit, absorbing “Africa/Brass,” interestingly, had a limited number of solo voices — despite an orchestra that included Dolphy, Booker Little, Paul Chambers, Julian Priester and Freddie Hubbard, among others. It remained immediately identifiable as Coltrane, even in the new setting.

We hear an expected, by then, take on a waltz standard in “Greensleeves” — something few would question after the artistic and commercial successes of Coltrane’s blockbuster “My Favorite Things” in 1960. The difference is drummer Elvin Jones, who was becoming ever more confident in the polyrhythms that would dominate jazz in the decade to come.

More interesting was the chant-like, almost religious beauty of “Africa,” this set’s centerpiece — and the launching pad for Coltrane’s move away from swing conventions into drones as a compositional foundation. Likewise, “Blues Minor,” worked out on the spot by Dolphy in a style that fit well with the stirring creativity now associated with this group, broods and swings with equal power.

Just that quick, Coltrane reinvented the one-off, large-group project.

Rather than sounding like a patch job, as many of these things so often do, the attention to improvisational detail, and careful selection of instrumentation, instead make “Africa/Brass” dark and powerful — adding unexpected hues to one of jazz music’s most brilliant improvisers.

Unfortunately, this is one of only two big-band sessions by Coltrane (the other being the otherworldly “Ascension,” also on Impulse, from 1965). Yet, “Africa/Brass” somehow — and this is baffling — remains one of his lesser talked-about releases.

To my mind, though, no John Coltrane collection is complete without it. Even four decades later, “Africa/Brass” still casts him — and this is saying something — in a new, insistently inventive, light.

Africa/Brass is the first John Coltrane record I ever bought. It thoroughly perplexed me.

I was maybe 15 or 16 and way into the Grateful Dead. I read an interview with the band's bass player, Phil Lesh, where he spoke about how he turned his band mates onto Coltrane, specifically via Africa/Brass. I came to learn over the years that the band was incredibly impacted and influenced by Coltrane's early '60s work and that happenstance introduction started me on my exploration.

I was not entirely unfamiliar with or ignorant about jazz at the time, but I had a very, very superficial exposure. I can't even recall what I may have been aware of at the time but there was certainly nothing like Africa/Brass in my consciousness.

What I initially picked up was a cassette tape. This was the mid-80s and if I recall correctly, none of the Impulse! stuff was in print any longer, certainly not on CD. If it was available I wasn't stumbling across it...anyway, I purchased said used cassette and was eager to see what mind-boggling music could have possibly so motivated my musical heroes.

I wish I could say that I was immediately drawn in and absorbed by the music, but that was not the case. The music was incredibly dense to my ears, not at all what I thought "jazzy" should be. Even "Blues Minor", the most bop-like track on the record, was left-of-center for me. Quite frankly, I was confused. Not put off, but thoroughly confused.

I kept that cassette tape for years. As my interest in and knowledge of music grew I would revisit Africa/Brass. I wish I could recall when I finally "got it" but it probably did not take as long as my memory implies. By the early 90s Coltrane was already a familiar reference point to me and had prepared me for some of my favorite records, such as Sonny Sharrock's Ask The Ages and McCoy Tyner's Fly With The Wind.

Those endless hours of Frank Zappa, the Grateful Dead and various heavy prog rock records did a great job of teaching me how to listen to and appreciate this other world of music, though. I love it all.

Freddie Hubbard - 1961 - Going Up

Freddie Hubbard
Going Up

01. Asiatic Raes
02. The Changing Scene
03. Karioka
04. A Peck A Sec.
05. I Wished I Knew
06. Blues For Brenda

Bass – Paul Chambers
Drums – Philly Joe Jones
Piano – McCoy Tyner
Tenor Saxophone – Hank Mobley
Trumpet – Freddie Hubbard

Recorded on November 6, 1960.

Paul Chambers performs by courtesy of Vee-Jay Records, Philly Joe Jones performs by courtesy of Atlantic Recording Corp.

One of the most exciting trumpeters of all time, Freddie Hubbard ranked with Lee Morgan as the most vital trumpet player of the 1960s. Hubbard was a powerhouse from the beginning of his career. Goin' Up was only his second recording as a leader but it finds the 22-year old in blazing form, displaying brilliant technique, dazzling ideas, a memorable sound, and a vivid imagination.

Matched with Hank Mobley and McCoy Tyner in a quintet, Hubbard frequently blows the roof off the Blue Note studios, whether playing originals by Mobley and Kenny Dorham or his own "Blues For Brenda." Some musicians take some time to become significant, but Freddie Hubbard was a giant from the start and the music he created on Goin' Up can rank with anything being recorded today.

Hank Mobley lends a sweetness to the sax solos on Hubbard's second album that is beautifully countered by Freddie's forceful playing. If you're at all serious about hard bop, you should have all seven of his Blue Note albums. "Open Sesame" (his first) and this one act as an opening statement, showing an amazing mastery of styles for a 20-year-old, along with a stunning improvisational ability. This CD is currently out of print, so be patient and keep checking for better prices. If you only want one album by Hubbard, it should be "Open Sesame" or "Ready for Freddie". But once you have those you'll want the rest.
A very good sophomore release from Hubbard, whose playing is beginning to mature
Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard's second outing on the Blue Note label was recorded in the Fall of 1960, and released in the summer of 1961 as "Goin' Up." Supporting Hubbard on this date are tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, pianist McCoy Tyner (returning from Hubbard's debut, "Open Sesame,") bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones.

For the session, Hubbard requisitioned two compositions by his friend and fellow trumpeter Kenny Dorham. The first is "Asiatic Raes" which opens the album and was previously recorded by Dorham under the title "Lotus Blossom" on his 1960 Prestige release "Quiet Kenny." After a drum intro that hints at the syncopation of the melody, the rest of the quintet comes in for the catchy and uptempo head. Hubbard wastes no time in displaying his remarkable agility and range in his opening solo, with particular emphasis on the high register of his horn. The rest of the band gives spirited solo statements as well before they are back to the head and an interesting fade-out coda to end the tune. The second Dorham tune is "Karioka," also taken at a quick swing and Hubbard leading off the solos with some of his most lyrical soloing on the record.

Mobley also contributes two original compositions to the session. The first is "The Changing Scene" a medium swinger in a funky minor mood that lends itself well to Mobley's big, blues-inflected sound. Hubbard simplifies in his solo and also sticks to the blues, with simple melodic ideas (that again tend toward the high register of the horn,) played with effective repetition and a deep swing. "A Peck a Sec" takes things back up to a brisk tempo, with a boppy head over rhythm changes with an altered bridge. The band sounds slightly challenged by the tempo and at times by Jones's tricky drumming, but both Hubbard and Mobley manage some nice moments in their solos.

"I Wished I Knew" (not to be confused with the standard "I Wish I Knew") was composed by Hubbard's friend, saxophonist Billy Smith, and serves as the album's ballad. Hubbard shows off his lyrical side in his beautiful rendering of the melody, but another highlight of the track is the lovely and imaginative accompaniment by both Tyner and Chambers, who add the perfect flourishes in between the impeccable phrasing of Hubbard and Mobley. Hubbard's only original for the session, "Blues for Brenda, (dedicated to his wife) closes the album. It's a minor blues with a laid-back two feel for the head, though Hubbard spits some potent fire during his solo. Tyner also gives one of his more effective and memorable solos on the record, mixing long bop phrases, with more simple, melodic ideas that help steer the swing of the rhythm section.

It's a strong sophomore effort from Hubbard that places emphasis on the great soloing abilities of Hubbard and the rest of the band. The material sticks mostly within the bounds of uptempo hard bop, but Hubbard adds nice, subtle twists to the arrangements that keep the music engaging. The record is easily recommendable to fans of the Blue Note-style hard bop, and will be of particular interest to those who prefer a quick tempo.

John Coltrane - 1961 - My Favorite Things

John Coltrane
My Favorite Things

01. My Favorite Things 13:41
02. Everytime We Say Goodbye 5:39
03. Summertime 11:31
04. But Not For Me 9:35

Bass – Steve Davis
Drums – Elvin Jones
Piano – McCoy Tyner
Saxophone – John Coltrane

1961 US Atlantic Records 1st label variation edition. Released with a laminated cover in a heavy cardboard jacket, with a small ring impression on red, purple and white colored fan logo on the center record labels.

The outline of an "anvil-lathe" stamped within the matrices indicates this is a Capitol Records Pressing Plant, Scranton pressing.

Recorded at Atlantic Studios, New York, NY
Track A1 on October 21, 1960
Track B1 on October 24, 1960
Tracks A2 & B2 on October 26, 1960

59 years ago this month, John Coltrane released My Favorite Things, an album which owes its existence to Miles Davis’s generosity.

In 1960, Coltrane and Davis embarked on a European tour which would prove to be the final jaunt that the two musicians would take together, but if one important thing came out of the trip (aside from the 4-disc live collection All Of You: The Final Tour 1960, which was released in 2014), it was Davis’s decision to buy Coltrane a soprano saxophone while they were on their expedition across the pond. Coltrane took to the instrument like a duck to water and started playing it in his initial dates with his new band, the John Coltrane Quartet, featuring bassist Steve Davis, drummer Elvin Jones, and pianist McCoy Tyner.

Looking back, it’s startling how prolific Coltrane could be: My Favorite Things was released only slightly more than a month after his previous album, Coltrane Jazz. Admittedly, it was an album which required no actual songwriting – all four of its tracks are covers – but the fact that Coltrane was even able to lay it down as quickly as he did is damned impressive.

The covers in question were well-chosen, ageless numbers which remain classics to this day: “My Favorite Things,” “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” “Summertime,” and “But Not For Me.” It was the title track in particular, though, that helped build a bridge between jazz and mainstream audiences, and it’s why, even after 55 years, it’s still one of the greatest gateway drugs to learning to love jazz.

In 1959, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The Sound of Music” opened on Broadway in New York at a time when show recordings often produced commercial hit songs on the radio. One popular missive from “Sound of Music” was “My Favorite Things,” sung by Broadway star Mary Martin. Who would have known that the melody of that show tune would inspire the innovative saxophonist John Coltrane to produce one of the most renowned albums in the history of jazz music?

“My Favorite Things” is a recording Coltrane made with his new quartet of McCoy Tyner on piano, Elvin Jones on drums and Steve Davis on bass. The group recorded the album at Atlantic Records’ studios in New York over three days in October 1960. For the session, Coltrane favored the high-pitched sound of the soprano saxophone for the two tracks on side one (of the phonographic long-playing record of the time) and tenor sax for the pair of tracks on side two. Coltrane at the time was playing what was known as “tonal jazz,” using music modes rather than chord progressions. He and McCoy would provide long solos on the album accompanied by Jones’ beats and brushings on the drums and Davis’ acoustic double bass.

At the time, Coltrane was only recently removed from the Miles Davis Quintet, which he joined in 1958. Coltrane would say that the latitude bandleader and trumpeter Davis gave him allowed him to develop Coltrane’s ability to play various notes at once, which he called “sheets of sound.” Coltrane’s avant garde approach, experimenting and reaching beyond traditional music structures through improvisation, would influence jazz and rock music for years to come.

Coltrane, born in 1926, grew up with a father who played multiple musical instruments, including the violin, and a mother who was a church pianist. He studied the clarinet and horn and later the saxophone, citing the renowned sax player Lester Young as an early inspiration. He studied music in Philadelphia and after a stint in the U.S. Navy (as a band player) during World War II, worked with the Eddie Vinson Band in the 1940s on tenor sax before taking the big step up to Dizzy Gillespie’s top-flight band and modern-jazz man Davis’ group in the 1950s.

By the time of “My Favorite Things,” Coltrane had been recording for Atlantic since 1959, when his album “Giant Steps,” showcasing his “sheets of sound” approach, was released. He cited East Indian “raga” music of Ravi Shankar as an influence. “My Favorite Things” lasts a full 40 minutes. For the title track, Coltrane used his soprano sax to alter the chord progressions and went off on improvisational tangents while Tyner on piano kept the Broadway song’s melody going behind him.

The three other cuts on “My Favorite Things” are standards as well. Coltrane’s playing on Cole Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye” is more subdued and less impressive but with his tenor sax on “Summertime” (from the show “Porgy and Bess” by Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward) he departs again from the song’s “script” with improvised abandon. The record concludes with a raucous rendition of Ira and George Gershwin’s “But Not for Me,” a show tune from 1930’s “Girl Crazy.” The cut features virtuoso playing by both Coltrane and Tyner.

Coltrane died of liver disease at just 40 years old in 1967, abbreviating his brilliant career. In 1998, more than two decades later, “My Favorite Things” was voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, perhaps as a way of making up for not awarding Coltrane a Grammy while he was alive. The album finally reached “gold” status for sales in 2001. It remains a classic for its fascinating, innovative sounds and place in jazz history.

Although seemingly impossible to comprehend, this landmark jazz date made in 1960 was recorded in less than three days. All the more remarkable is that the same sessions which yielded My Favorite Things would also inform a majority of the albums Coltrane Plays the Blues, Coltrane's Sound, and Coltrane Legacy. It is easy to understand the appeal that these sides continue to hold. The unforced, practically casual soloing styles of the assembled quartet -- which includes Coltrane (soprano/tenor sax), McCoy Tyner (piano), Steve Davis (bass), and Elvin Jones (drums) -- allow for tastefully executed passages à la the Miles Davis Quintet, a trait Coltrane no doubt honed during his tenure in that band. Each track of this album is a joy to revisit. The ultimate listenability may reside in this quartet's capacity to not be overwhelmed by the soloist. Likewise, they are able to push the grooves along surreptitiously and unfettered. For instance, the support that the trio -- most notably Tyner -- gives to Coltrane on the title track winds the melody in and around itself. However, instead of becoming entangled and directionless, these musical sidebars simultaneously define the direction the song is taking. As a soloist, the definitive soprano sax runs during the Cole Porter standard "Everytime We Say Goodbye" and tenor solos on "But Not for Me" easily establish Coltrane as a pioneer of both instruments.

As a sidenote, while my wife was pregnant last year I got into a serious Coltranne binge for a couple of months and this was the one album she liked because of ... you guessed it, The Sound Of Music cover... funny thing is that months go by, baby daughter is born, and now almost two months old, this is the album I know that if I give it a spin will calm calm her down and send her into absolute bliss after a session of stomach cramps... Thank you John!