The Avant Garde's Leading Edge

Very much like his former employer Miles Davis, John Coltrane's later work always seemed to raise more questions than there seemed to be answers. Miles' cronies would have just as easily favored him playing "Bye Bye Blackbird" with mute in hand as to be subjected to the electric onslaught that marked his work from the early '70s until his death in the early '80s. In the same way, Coltrane's followers were much more comfortable with "Giant Steps" and "My Favorite Things" than the radical innovations of "Ascension." Regardless of which camp current listeners are members of, Impulse has recently released five seminal Coltrane titles that belong in any comprehensive collection.

Although all of the titles have been issued before on compact disc, these new productions features deluxe packaging with original cover art, new 24-bit remastering and extra material. Taken in chronological order, IMPRESSIONS (Impulse 543 416) was essentially a patchwork quilt upon original release and it remains so as presented here. "India" and "Impressions" are the exulted master takes of performances at the Village Vanguard, while the other five cuts, including a bonus take of "Dear Old Stockholm," come from studio dates in 1961 and 1962.

Previously available only as part of a two-disc collection or as a Japanese import, ASCENSION(Impulse 543 413) includes both complete versions of this 40-minute work. As the story goes, the piece was performed and recorded twice with the first take ultimately being pressed up and released. Subsequently, Coltrane heard the record and decided that he preferred the second edition, which then appeared on all later releases. A ten-member ensemble, basically including two of each instrument, engages in collective interplay and solo improvisation. It's a scorching work that can be highly challenging for the uninitiated, but which holds more than its share of rewards.

Easily the most sweeping new presentation here is that which accompanies NEW THING AT NEWPORT (Impulse 543 414). Not only has the sound improved radically but also the pieces within each set (i.e. the Newport Jazz Festival- July 1965) appear in the order in which they were performed. New remastering and tape research has allowed this, plus the addition of on-stage banter and announcements not previously released. Coltrane is confidently enthused throughout, especially on a crowd-pleasing go at "My Favorite Things." Archie Shepp's set is among his best work, with Bobby Hutcherson and Joe Chambers part of an ideal ensemble. On a purely aesthetic note, this edition also includes for the first time the great color shot of Shepp that appeared on the back cover of the original release.

With their hypnotic overtones, the two lengthy cuts that form the cornerstones of KULU SE MAMA (Impulse 543 412) are slightly novel when compared to other experiments that Coltrane was engaged in at the time. Recorded on the West Coast in the fall of 1965, the title track and "Selflessness" reflect more of the vision of percussionist Juno Lewis, who can be heard chanting in parts throughout both pieces. The rest of the album contains cuts from studio sessions in June of '65 with the classic quartet. Three bonus selections are included, one of them being a previously unissued alternate take of "Dusk Dawn."

By the early part of 1967 it seemed that Coltrane had taken his music to the farthest reaches of the avant garde extreme. In February of that year, he entered the Van Gelder studio with tenor saxophone in hand and only drummer Rashied Ali at his side. The pair's series of duets were eventually released as INTERSTELLAR SPACE (Impulse 543 415), although the entire contents of the session are being issued here in one place for the first time ever. Not for the faint of heart, Coltrane's improvisations are often searing in their intensity and Ali does not swing in any conventional way whatsoever. Still, musicians and astute followers have found much satisfaction in these "open" and "exposed" performances over the years.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: John Coltrane
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