[Review] John Coltrane: Blue Train (1958)

Trane recorded this one-off, hard-bop session for Blue Note with a 19-year-old Lee Morgan.

Kronomyth 4.0: Butterflies are white and blue in this field we wander through.*

Everything sounds better on Blue Note, Mingus be damned. Blue Train is the best thing Coltrane had done to date, joined by a short-lived but stellar lineup that included Kenny Drew (piano), Curtis Fuller (trombone), Philly Joe Jones (drums) and a 19-year-old Lee Morgan (trumpet), plus standup stalwart Paul Chambers (bass). The record marks the true beginning of “classic” Coltrane, with the first of many original standards to come on the instantly memorable “Moment’s Notice” and the swinging closer, “Lazy Bird.” Those two tracks and the sweetly sentimental “I’m Old Fashioned” stand head and shoulders above Coltrane’s Prestige recordings to date (“How Deep Is The Ocean?” and “Soul Eyes” notwithstanding).

Hard bop with a strong, swinging vibe, Blue Train is the tenor saxophonist at the top of his game, unloosing (seemingly) effortless and wondrous solos from the first minute of “Blue Train” onward. While you’re waiting for the next Trane solo to come, Morgan, Fuller and Drew provide plenty of diversion with their own unique and exciting solos. It’s a shame this lineup only lasted for one session, as ephemeral as a beautiful butterfly lasting but a day. Listen to Drew’s solo on “Moment’s Notice,” Morgan on “I’m Old Fashioned,” Fuller on “Blue Train,” and you’d never guess these were strangers meeting on a Trane session.

As a bonus, Blue Train marks a rare reunion with Miles Davis drummer Jones, who together with fellow MDQ alum Chambers gives the record some real bounce. Stylistically, the music seems to straddle bebop and hard bop, in case naming these things helps you. The real achievement of Blue Train isn’t so much how it sounds but how it makes you feel: joyous, free, alive. It’s the first Coltrane album to make that kind of connection with me, but certainly not the last. It’s also a great introduction to the genius of Lee Morgan, another prodigious talent loosed too soon from this mortal coil.

*From “Mariposa” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

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Original LP Version

A1. Blue Train (10:43)
A2. Moment’s Notice (9:10)
B1. Locomotion (7:14)
B2. I’m Old Fashioned (Jerome Kern/Johnny Mercer) (7:58)
B3. Lazy Bird (7:00)

Expanded CD reissue bonus tracks
6. Blue Train (alternate take) (9:55)
7. Lazy Bird (alternate take) (7:09)

All songs written by John Coltrane unless noted.

The Players

John Coltrane (tenor sax), Paul Chambers (bass), Kenny Drew (piano), Curtis Fuller (trombone), “Philly” Joe Jones (drums), Lee Morgan (trumpet). Produced by Alfred Lion; recording by Rudy Van Gelder.

The Pictures

Photos by Francis Wolff. Cover design by Reid Miles.

The Plastic

Released on mono elpee in January 1958* in the US (Blue Note, BLP 1577); (RIAA-certified gold record in 2001). (*First appeared in 1/27/58 issue of Billboard.)

  1. Re-issued on elpee in c. 1962-66 in the US (Blue Note, BST 1577).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in c.1973-75 in the US (Blue Note, BST-81577).
  3. Re-issued on elpee in 1978 in Japan (Blue Note, GXK8055).
  4. Re-issued on elpee in c.1986-1990 in the US (Blue Note, BST 1577).
  5. Re-released on expanded hybrid super audio compact disc in 2003 in the US (Blue Note, 41757-2) with 2 bonus tracks.
  6. Re-released on 200g vinyl 4LP 45pm boxed set in 2008 in the US (Classic Records, BST-81577-45).
  7. Re-released on 180g vinyl 2LP feat. mono & stereo versions in 2012 in the EU (Not Now, NOT2LP161).
  8. Re-released on expanded super high material compact disc on September 28, 2016 in Japan (Blue Note, UCCU-5656) with 3 bonus tracks.
  9. Re-issued on expanded SHMCD on December 14, 2016 in Japan (Blue Note, UCGQ-9204) with 2 bonus tracks.
  10. Re-released on 180g blue vinyl elpee in 2016 in Europe (Not Now, NOTLP230) with unique cover.
  11. Re-released on 140g vinyl picture elpee in 2016 in the UK (Doxy, DOP8012).
  12. Re-released on elpee in 2017 in the Netherlands (Vinyl Passion, VP 80099) with unique cover.
  13. Re-released on super audio compact disc on December 6, 2017 in Japan (Blue Note, UCGQ-9023).
  14. Re-packaged with Traneing In and Dakar on 2CD (Not Now, NOT2CD291).

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