[Review] John Coltrane: Coltrane Jazz (1961)

Coltrane steps away from chromatic thirds to make a straightforward jazz album that swings.

Kronomyth 8.0: Blues, Chambers.

After the leap of Giant Steps, John Coltrane took a step back and released an album of “normal” jazz, calling it simply Coltrane Jazz. The album is notable for introducing the new Coltrane Quartet (McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Steve Davis) on one track, “Village Blues.” Although not a groundbreaking album in any sense, Coltrane Jazz features the superlative musicianship that Coltrane fans had come to expect, and includes a fine balance of swinging covers and free-swinging originals.

The record gets off to a great start with a surprisingly sweet version of Hoagy Carmichael’s Little Old Lady, moving now at a much brisker pace and with an unexpected bossa nova ending. Village Blues was recorded with the future Coltrane band (about one year later than the other sessions featured on this album), and the difference between the two groups is immediately felt. Tyner paints where Kelly plays, Jones shuffles on sandpaper shoes and Steve Davis has the unenviable task of filling Chambers’. My Shining Hour is another remarkably bright remake of a dour original (this time from Johnny Mercer), and to say Coltrane makes these songs his own would be an understatement; he completely reinvents them. Side one ends with a mysterious, vaguely Eastern original, Fifth House, featuring one of those Coltrane solos where he completely unravels the melody and then ties it all together again, impossibly, beautifully.

Side two starts with Harmonique, perhaps a portmanteau of harmony and technique, as the song showcases both sides of Coltrane’s genius. Like Sonny, dedicated to Sonny Rollins, has a smooth bossa nova sound that lays the foundation for some amazing soloing. I’ll Wait And Pray, a wartime-era song popularized by Sarah Vaughan, sticks pretty close to the original and is one of the few examples where Coltrane underplays. The album closes with a bouncy original, Some Other Blues, that is fun to listen to if not exactly his most timeless composition.

Although Coltrane made his reputation on avant-garde recordings, he never lost his love for playing the standards. His discography is a back-and-forth between swinging, sentimental recordings and what could only be described as musical epiphanies. Coltrane Jazz is the former; technically accomplished, but more foot-tapping than groundbreaking. You’ll probably want the works around it first (Giant Steps, My Favorite Things, Africa/Brass), but any of the original Atlantic recordings from Coltrane are worth owning.

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Original elpee version

A1. Little Old Lady (Hoagy Carmichael/Stanley Adams) (4:25)
A2. Village Blues (John Coltrane) (5:21)
A3. My Shining Hour (Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen) (4:50)
A4. Fifth House (John Coltrane) (4:38)
B1. Harmonique (John Coltrane) (4:10)
B2. Like Sonny (John Coltrane) (5:51)
B3. I’ll Wait And Pray (Jerry Valentine/George Treadwell) (3:32)
B4. Some Other Blues (John Coltrane) (5:33)

CD reissue bonus tracks
9. Like Sonny (alternate take) (6:03)
10. I’ll Wait And Pray (alternate take) (3:25)
11. Like Sonny (alternate take 5) (8:10)
12. Village Blues (alternate take) (6:14)

The Players

John Coltrane (tenor sax), Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums), Wynton Kelly (piano) with Steve Davis (bass on A2), Elvin Jones (drums on A2), McCoy Tyner (piano on A2). Recording engineered by Tom Dowd & Phil Iehle; supervised by Nesuhi Ertegun.

The Pictures

Cover photo by Lee Friedlander. Cover design by Loring Eutemey.

The Plastic

Released on mono elpee in January 1961* in the US (Atlantic, 1354). (*First appeared in 1/30/61 issue of Billboard.)

  1. Re-issued on stereo elpee in the US (Atlantic, SD 1354).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc and cassette in 1992 in the US (Atlantic, SD/CS-1354).
  3. Re-released on expanded compact disc in 2000 in the US (Rhino, 79891) with 4 bonus tracks.
  4. Re-issued on expanded compact disc in 2004 in the UK (Warner Jazz, 8122765892) with 4 bonus tracks.
  5. Re-issued 24-bit remastered, expanded compact disc on November 27, 2006 in Japan (Atlantic, WPCR-25102) with 4 bonus tracks.

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