by George Tysh
Rhino’s been all over the map lately, releasing sets of sci-fi movie themes, vintage blues-rock cabernets and, most beloved of the jazz-smitten, the occasional must-have master session. Falling precisely in this last category are two sides from Coltrane’s Atlantic years.
On Coltrane Plays the Blues (recorded Oct. 24, 1960), Trane digs into serene roots with most of what would soon be his earth-moving quartet (McCoy Tyner, piano, and Elvin Jones, drums, plus here Steve Davis, bass). The mood is laid-back and elemental on the opener, “Blues to Elvin,” with Trane taking a leisurely walk on tenor and Tyner showing off his elegantly spare side. Things don’t get a lot more intense than that, with Trane switching to soprano on “Blues to Bechet,” and the percolating “Blues to You” looking ahead to “Take the Coltrane” from the classic 1962 Coltrane-Ellington date on Impulse. One of this disc’s loveliest moments is the unison soprano-piano theme statement on “Mr. Syms,” a dark hymn to funkiness. This Rhino reissue offers five tasty bonus tracks and the relaxation of the whole should blow a few unprepared minds.
Olé Coltrane, on the other hand, is another field of dreams entirely. Recorded May 25, 1961, it boasts a stellar lineup of Coltrane (tenor and soprano saxes), Eric Dolphy (alto sax and flute), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Tyner (piano), Jones (drums) and two bassists, Reggie Workman and Art Davis. A portent of such Trane projects as “India” from the Impulse Village Vanguard sides, the title cut starts out with a dual-bass fandango, joined by brooding piano, thrashing cymbals and Trane’s Moorish soprano. Soon an extended foray into spacious modality is under way (check out Jones’ perfect driving pulse on this 18-minute track), setting a dramatic, exhilarating mood. Perhaps inspired by Miles Davis-Gil Evans’ Sketches of Spain, it brings out the (North) African colors in the duende of flamenco.
Then “Dahomey Dance,” its melody a series of stately descending chords, kicks in. Epic solos by Trane on tenor and Dolphy on alto (showing how down-home and “right” he could sound in the Coltrane band) ride in on a healthy-choice, certainly danceable 4/4 rhythm. Two ballads, “Aisha” and the bonus “Original Untitled Ballad (To Her Ladyship)” bring this set of prime Trane to a gorgeous close.
In 1959-61, a time of ferment and transition for him, Coltrane turned out a few masterworks for Atlantic and these are two of them.
George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at email@example.com.