Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Straight Horning: Some Coltrane

I can't say I'm a huge fan of John Coltrane, but I try to revisit his work occasionally. Over the last few years usually this has been in the form of his soprano playing. Over the past couple of months I've been listening to two of his early works featuring the straight horn from 1960 - The Avant-Garde (with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Percy Heath and Ed Blackwell) and My Favorite Things (with McCoy Tyner, Steve Davis and Elvin Jones).

I've always been a little curious about The Avant-Garde. Initially it was because he explores some works by Ornette Coleman (whom I was listening to a lot when I came across this album) plus it's Coltrane's first studio recording on soprano. Coltrane is still finding his feet on soprano and that alone makes it worth checking out. I'm not sure if it's the recording, the remastering, or maybe Coltrane himself but I find his tone on his horn (particularly soprano) to be very mid and treble-ly - like the bottoms have been mixed out. And while he never had what I consider a dark sound, the lack of bottom end is very apparent on this recording. Different band, different tunes, soprano debut - it doesn't feel like a fully realized album and maybe I can see why Atlantic sat on it for a few years before releasing it in the mid 60s. I wouldn't consider this essential Coltrane, but I do find it a very interesting album and it's a shame he didn't explore this direction a little further (I'm a fan of Ornette and his band members so it's hardly surprising I feel that way).

My Favorite Things was probably the 3rd or 4th Coltrane album I heard - after Blue Train and Giant Steps.... then it was either My Favorite Things or A Love Supreme (but I think it was the former). I have friends for which My Favorite Things was the album that got them into jazz in a serious way. It never made a big impression on me and as a result I hadn't given My Favorite Things a listen in quite some time. In fact, I can only remember listening to it once since I took up the soprano sax in ernest back in 2010 so I decided to give it a whirl again. The contrast between his tenor and soprano make for interesting listening (recorded 3-4 months following The Avant-Garde he is still finding his way on the soprano) and I had forgotten how subdued the band sounds on the title track. And although the album has probably had a dozen spins over the past six weeks or so, I can't say it has grown on me and I have to admit My Favorite Things still tends to leave me a little flat.

Next up on my Coltrane soprano listening list are the half a dozen or so tracks featuring soprano on the 1961 Village Vanguard recordings. I'm always open to suggestions, so let me know your favorite recordings of Coltrane on soprano and I'll try to get around to listening to them!

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