[Review] The John Coltrane Quartet: Africa/Brass (1961)

Eric Dolphy and a herd of horns join the John Coltrane Quartet for the biggest, baddest brass band you’ve ever heard.

Kronomyth 10.0: A brass pair.

The centerpiece of Africa/Brass is Africa, an expansive veldt of brass, bass, piano and drums stretched across the whole of side one. Essentially a collaboration between John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy, “Africa” isn’t just a piece of music but a place that the mind inhabits. In this place, time stands still as you watch a small herd of horned creatures run through the raw, vibrant fields of a world that exists solely in the realm of sound. You don’t listen to “Africa,” you experience it.

“Africa” asks a lot of the listener. It asks you to stop and listen, really listen, which is something too few of us find time for these days. But it rewards you by lifting you out of the mundane world around you and transporting you to a new world of music. With Coltrane, Dolphy, Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner, what you have here is timeless music played by titans. If “Giant Steps” was the first giant step for Coltrane, “Africa” is the next step.

Perhaps by necessity, “Africa” overshadows the rest of the album. Greensleeves, arranged by Tyner, is more simple and melodic by design. Coltrane switches to soprano sax, Tyner’s solo is smooth and supple, and “Greensleeves” quietly swings along for ten minutes. Blues Minor is a much noisier affair as Dolphy resumes the role of arranger. Coltrane’s tenor sax is recorded with an audible echo that is positively cosmic, Dolphy’s horns come rushing in like a freight train and even Tyner gets stirred up, delivering one of his riskiest solos to date.

Just one note about the new guy, Reggie Workman. He delivers half a great performance on “Africa,” with Paul Chambers delivering the other half. I couldn’t tell you which half is whose, and don’t care, but the bass is absolutely central to “Africa.” It is the first and last thing you hear, the sun rising and setting, the kiss good morning and the kiss good night.

I wasn’t initially floored by Africa/Brass because I wasn’t listening. If you find yourself in the same situation, stop what you’re doing and just listen to the music. There will always be pandemics, politics and police brutality in the world, but beauty is fleeting. Listening to music isn’t just a distraction, but an active rejection of the ugliness around us. And so, if you should ever wonder why I write about music and don’t say anything about the current state of world affairs, know that I am.

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Original elpee version

A1. Africa (John Coltrane, arr. by Eric Dolphy) (16:26)
B1. Greensleeves (public domain, arr. by McCoy Tyner) (9:55)
B2. Blues Minor (John Coltrane, arr. by Eric Dolphy) (7:20)

All tracks orchestrated and conducted by Eric Dolphy.

LP reissue bonus track
B3. Song of the Underground Railroad (traditional, arr. by John Coltrane) (6:44)

The Players

John Coltrane (tenor & soprano sax), Elvin Jones (drums), McCoy Tyner (piano), Reggie Workman (bass) with Bill Barber (tuba), Jimmy Buffington (french horn on B1/B3), Garvin Bushell (reeds & woodwinds on B1/B3), Paul Chambers (bass on B1/B3), Donald Corrado (french horn), Eric Dolphy (alto sax, bass clarinet, flute), Charles “Majeed” Greenlee (euphonium), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet on B1/B3), Booker Little (trumpet), Bob Northern (french horn), Pat Patrick (baritone sax), Julian Priester (euphonium on B1/B3), Robert Swisshelm (french horn), Julius Watkins (french horn).

The Pictures

Photography by Ted Russell.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in 1961 in the US (Impulse!, A-S-6) with gatefold cover [orange/black “abc-par” label].

  1. Re-issued on stereo elpee in mid 1960s in the US (Impulse!, AS-6) [orange/black “abc-paramount” label].
  2. Re-issued on stereo elpee in 1967/8 in the US (Impulse!, AS-6) [orange/black “abc records” label].
  3. Re-issued on stereo elpee in 1968 in the US (ABC/Impulse!, AS-6) [orange rim “made in usa” label] with gatefold cover.
  4. Re-issued on elpee in early 1970s in Germany (EMI/Columbia, 1C 052-90 805).
  5. Re-issued on elpee in the mid 1970s in Japan (ABC Impulse, YS-8501) with gatefold cover.
  6. Re-issued on elpee in Japan (ABC Impulse!, IMP-88090) with gatefold cover.
  7. Re-issued on elpee in Japan (ABC Impulse!, SR-3071) with gatefold cover.
  8. Re-issued on elpee in the mid 1970s in Japan (MCA, VIM-4609) with gatefold cover.
  9. Re-packaged with Africa/Brass Sessions, Vol. 2 on 2-for-1 compact disc and cassette in 1990 (MCA, MCAD/MCAC-42001).
  10. Re-released on expanded 180g vinyl elpee in 2012 (Jazz Wax) with one bonus track.
  11. Re-packaged with Coltrane Jazz on 2-for-1 180g vinyl 2LP in 2012 in the UK (Not Now, NOT2LP147) with gatefold cover.
  12. Re-packaged with My Favorite Things on 2-for-1 2LP in 2013 in the Netherlands (Vinyl Passion).

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