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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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John COLTRANE

Out Of This World

PROPERBOX 181

 

 

Disc 1: Exotica

1.

So What

2.

Exotica

3.

One And Four

4.

Simple Like

5.

Village Blues

6.

Mr Syms

7.

Mr Knight

8.

Blues To Elvin

9.

Mr Day

10.

Blues To You

11.

Blues To Bechet

Disc 2: Blues Minor

1.

Teo

2.

Greensleeves

3.

Dahomey Dance

4.

Aisha

5.

Africa

6.

Blues Minor

7.

Softly As In A Morning Sunrise

Disc 3: Chasin’ The Trane

1.

Chasin' The Trane

2.

Spiritual

3.

Blue Train

4.

Impressions

5.

Greensleeves (45rpm version)

6.

It's Easy To Remember

7.

Mr P.C.

8.

The Red Planet

Disc 4: Body And Soul

1.

My Favourite Things

2.

The Inch Worm

3.

Body And Soul

4.

Out Of This World

5.

Soul Eyes

6.

Miles Mode

7.

Tunji

John Coltrane (tenor & soprano saxes) and including, amongst many others, Eric Dolphy (alto sax), Miles Davis, Booker Little & Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Wynton Kelly & Mc.Coy Tyner (piano), Paul Chambers, Reggie Workman, Jimmy Garrison, Steve Davis & Art Davis (bass), Jimmy Cobb, Elvin Jones & Billy Higgins (drums).

rec. between March 1960 & June 1962 at various venues including the Konserthuset, Stockholm, Sweden, The Village Vanguard & Birdland, New York City and recording studios in New York City, New Jersey and Los Angeles.

PROPERBOX 181 4 CD Box [77:56][68:43][74:31][68:38]

 

Coltrane was, as the excellent booklet notes by fellow saxophonist Simon Spillett explains, “mercurially evasive of critical pigeon-holes” with some even describing him as ‘anti-jazz’ with the result that he had as many detractors as supporters. For me the title of this collection says it all and I shall reinforce my position by quoting a critic who came up with the following to describe Hammond organist Mike Carr “I am about to make one of those very controversial statements that will cause uproar. Opinions will immediately become polarised. Shovels will be taken out of garden sheds to enable entrenched positions to be dug...but here goes”...John Coltrane is the greatest sax player in jazz history!

It is certainly true, as newspaper reviews of this set have pointed out, that John Coltrane is, especially considering his relatively brief recording life, well represented on disc, but in my opinion this release deserves a great deal more credit than simply being described as a good introduction to the legend that is John Coltrane as some have done. In classical music I find that whatever musical highways and byways I explore and however many ‘new’ composers I discover I always come back to Beethoven who for me is THE BENCHMARK against which I measure all others. I can say the same of John Coltrane because as soon as I put the first disc on and heard the 15 minute live recording of So What I experienced sheer bliss from first note to last and was reminded why I have the opinion I have about the great man. I cannot think of any player who soars and dives, whispers, moans and screams and reaches new plateaus of wondrous sound and with such musical originality and dexterity as Coltrane. Among the plethora of discs of his music, which include numerous compilations, are a great number of cheaply produced ones that are often to be found in motorway service shops or department stores on which the sound is often muddy to say the least but on these four discs the sound on the majority of tracks is pretty damn good with his unique voice speaking across the years loud and clear. However, it was always the complete package that was delivered on any disc of his since he brought out the very best in the rest of the band and there are some fantastic examples in this collection among which I should single out McCoy Tyner for the most brilliantly emotive piano playing you could wish for.

At the time Coltrane was just coming to prominence jazz writer Ira Gitler said “He and Sonny (Rollins) are parallel figures now, each contributing new ideas to jazz in his own way”. In the booklet Spillett makes the interesting point that there was a major difference between the two, specifically that “...one was capricious and wilful and the other was initially more cautious”. I suppose the camps are thus divided: those who like the risk takers and those who prefer caution and believed as did critic John S.Wilson that Coltrane “often plays his tenor sax as if he were determined to blow it apart, but his desperate attacks almost invariably lead nowhere”. I find it fascinating that people can hear the same things in ways that produce reactions that are in such diametrical opposition to each other.

The recording of So What that opens the collection is one made in Stockholm, Sweden on a tour that Coltrane made in 1960 with Miles Davis. It is a wonderfully extended version in which he allows himself full reign in terms of expression turning out a performance to cherish. It was a real ‘cat among the pigeons’ moment that drew mixed feelings and reactions from his continental audience with his unrestrained daring set against what Spillett characterised as the “classy minimalism” of Miles’ trumpet playing and the rest of the band’s “groovy accompaniment”. Some felt his playing to be angry and his attitude aloof and Coltrane’s explanation to Swedish interviewer Carl Lindgren was that “Maybe it sounds angry because I’m trying so many different things at one time. I haven’t sorted them out. I have a whole bag of things that I’m trying to work through and get the one essential.” That is I think a very telling statement that shows that Coltrane was forever searching and seeking to extend his own capabilities. As he put it another time “The main thing a musician would like to do is give a picture to the listener of the many wonderful things he knows of and senses in the universe.” How strange that some people cannot recognise and empathise with such a principled and honest aim?

The rest of the first disc has many highlights but then everything he does is a highlight for me. For those who seem to take such great exception to his more wild excursions I can recommend listening to Simple Like which shows that he had a gentle side too as do the next two tracks, Village Blues and Mr Syms. Both of those have Elvin Jones appearing for the first time as drummer, a musician Coltrane had long sought to add to his band and who, apart from one further track is featured on all the rest.

Disc two opens with a great rendition of Miles Davis’ Teo with its beguiling Spanish beat that makes you want to get up and dance. Incidentally reading the list of musicians for Teo one might be surprised that a mistake has been made in not listing either Coltrane or Miles Davis but of course their contribution is unmistakeable with the track coming from Miles’ 1961 album Someday My Prince Will Come. Next up is Coltrane’s treatment of the traditional Greensleeves showing what new things can be done with tunes we think we know so well and using a huge 18 piece band, including 5 French horns, which he assembled for his first release for Impulse (see below). Freddie Hubbard’s trumpet sings out loud and clear on Coltrane’s Dahomey Dance, just one of 19 Coltrane originals out of the total of 33 tracks that go to show what a prolific composer he was too.

When in mid 1961 Coltrane left Atlantic Records and signed for Impulse the first album he made for them was Africa/Brass from which we are treated to two tracks here (also see above Greensleeves) with the first, Africa by far the longest at 16 minutes. For this album he was pursuing a particular sound wanting the band to sound like a drone and to which end he assembled another unusually large band of fourteen including euphonium and tuba plus four French horns and two bassists. With its hypnotic atmosphere of African jungle complete with sounds like howling animals and fantastic experimental drumming from Elvin Jones it was another groundbreaking moment in Coltrane’s discography. Using the same line-up the next track from that same album is Blues Minor a real foot tapping gem.

Disc 3 opens with one of Coltrane’s now expected on the spot improvisations lasting almost 16 minutes and recorded live at The Village Vanguard and which he explained to Nat Hentoff was as long because he was “...looking into certain sounds, certain scales. The result can be long or short. I never know. It’s always one thing leading into another. It keeps evolving and sometimes it’s longer than I actually thought it was while I was playing it.” That’s a real example of getting lost in his own music. The track even lead long time supporter Ira Gitler to comment that “Coltrane may be searching for new avenues of expression, but if it is going to take this form of yawps, squawks, and countless repetitive runs, then it should be confined to the woodshed”. This at the time untitled piece became Chasin’ The Trane a title that it is suggested in the notes was engineer Rudy Van Gelder’s and caused by his best attempts at trying to keep Coltrane in range as he paced back and forth across the stage. As it is it’s a perfect title for something that exemplifies the feeling of a constant search for his own true essence which I don’t believe he ever thought he found.

The next day at the same venue he recorded Spiritual a beautiful and far more relaxed tune than the frenetic title track for this disc.

One of Coltrane’s seminal tunes is surely Blue Trane and this track was recorded on his band’s European tour in November 1961 back at the Stockholm venue the Konserthuset. The tour began in London (the only time he visited the UK) and caused controversy from the first moment due to the fact that up to then because of the vagaries caused by licensing delays no-one in Europe had heard any of Coltrane’s latest experimentation. The first concert in London’s Kilburn lead Melody Maker’s Bob Dawbarn to write “...I had no idea at the end of the group’s hour long programme what it was about than I had at the beginning. There just seems no basis for any of it. My general feeling is that it belonged more to the realms of higher mathematics than music.” Fortunately not everyone felt the same and local critic Kitty Grime commented in Jazz News that “This is living music, important enough to change quite a few jazz lives....The effect is stunning and it isn’t often one can admit to being amazed.” It is followed byImpressions which sounded better than the preceding track which was distorted perhaps due to a fault in the disc’s production. However, so did It’s Easy To Remember which seems to confirm that view. I hope your copy will be better in that respect so that you can hear it in the best possible way and then make your own mind up about which of the two opposing viewpoints you favour.

The disc finishes with Mr. P.C. and The Red Planet both recorded live on unspecified dates and at unspecified venues. Both are typically blistering accounts that are rhythmically and harmonically exciting and daring with Coltrane continuing his self-searching mission.

The final disc in this superb collection is entitled Body And Soul and starts with an almost 19 minute version of My Favourite Things which Coltrane also played in London though the album it was on could not be released in Britain until 1964 because of a contractual agreement concerning the London stage production of The Sound Of Music from which it comes. Reading the notes it appears that a bootleg recording of this from The Village Gate lasts all of 45 minutes (!) making this one seem modest in the extreme. It was a version of this tune played at Hollywood’s Renaissance Club in October 1961 that lead Down Beat’s John Tynan to claim that Coltrane and Dolphy “...seem bent on pursuing an anarchistic course in their music that can be termed anti-jazz” finding the front line’s performance “ugly” and “nihilistic” and causing one waitress at a New York venue to cover her ears and scream “I can’t stand it anymore!” In an article in Down Beat that allowed both Coltrane and Eric Dolphy to answer their critics Coltrane wrote “I’ve tried to become more aware of the other side – the life side of music. (Music) is a reflection of the universe, like having life in miniature. You just take a situation in your life or an emotion you know and put it into music.” While some wrote him off as a “misguided mystic” his legion of fans recognised an attempt to go beyond notes on a page and reach into spiritual realms to create something altogether deeper and more meaningful. He was of the general opinion that music is above all about communication rather than simple entertainment. It does beg the question as to how someone who earns his living as a critic fails to appreciate that, concentrating solely on entertainment value. As with so many of his recordings this track is more than the sum of its parts it is an all encompassing experience and for me that is the best way to approach the listening.

There is something of a hard edge to the live recording of Body And Soul but that aside it is still wonderful to hear. This collection’s title track Out Of This World an Arlen/Mercer original was the opening track of the album simply titled Coltrane released in 1962 and is another brilliant demonstration of Coltrane’s ever evolving style that is full of harmonic daring and seat of the pants intensity. Some ‘respite’ comes in the form of the beautifully lyrical Soul Eyes that once again shows Coltrane’s softer side that should satisfy his sternest critics. Dolphy’s original The Red Planet now strangely re-titled Miles’ Mode is distilled into seven minutes of hard driven and complex rhythms.

In Coltrane’s own Tunji there is a moment when as Spillett puts it there is a reminder that like Miles Davis he “...possessed a genius for textural contrast” when abruptly in McCoy Tyner’s solo there is a lift to a major key. The mood here is relaxed with Jimmy Garrison’s bass playing particularly and satisfyingly resonant and the man himself is in laid back, even brooding mode.

Having lived with this collection for several days and having listened to the total of almost 5 hours of music several times I found it hard to let go such is the magnetism of this brilliant musician. Even now it hard to come to terms with the fact that he is no longer with us leaving the world of jazz at the cruelly young age of 40 as many as 47 years ago, because he was so innovative and ground breaking that there has not been much music since that has not owed a huge debt to him or that has been more searching than his was. All the playing is superlative and that goes for all the other musicians involved with people like Eric Dolphy, McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones (not to mention the couple of tracks with Miles Davis) producing real quality and laying down tracks that will live in jazz history for ever. Coltrane fans will not hesitate to buy it at the keen price that Proper Box is renowned for but those who still need convincing about the genius that is John Coltrane should try again because there are some truly special moments here and Simon Spillett’s superbly researched booklet notes will help to illuminate and inform and may even lead to a change of opinions about this giant among saxophonists.

Steve Arloff



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