John Coltrane

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Blue Train

Everyone knows this is a classic album; Coltrane himself said it was his best in one interview. It is the epitome of hard bop, it cooks throughout, and all of the tunes are now jazz standards. Check out the 19 year-old Lee Morgan on trumpet!
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Coltrane’s Sound

This is a straight-ahead album like ‘Blue Train’, but a highly advanced one. Coltrane is devising his own complex harmonies at this time, of the kind he most famously demonstrated on ‘Giant Steps’, but it all sounds much more natural here and the tunes are better too.
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Live at Birdland featuring Eric Dolphy

Not to be confused with the much more famous ‘Live at Birdland’ album, these sessions demonstrate that Coltrane’s journey into the avant-garde had well and truly begun by 1962. Eric Dolphy rarely sounded better: he was such a weird player! He used to practice with the birds, apparently, and you can clearly hear it in some of the tweety-licks which he presumably picked up from them.
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Sun Ship

This is my favourite Coltrane album. It was one of the last made by Coltrane’s famous quartet, before he disbanded it to get with the avant-garde proper, which was mainly achieved by hiring fellow tenor player Pharoah Sanders. At this point Coltrane was going too far for pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones, with his intense and obsessive deconstructions of Western harmony, which often ended up in Albert Ayler screaming territory but by a considerably more technical and circuitous route. However, Tyner and Jones are still trying to stay with it; they refuse to give up the challenge, and with musicians of this standard, a considerably higher standard than the free spirits Coltrane replaced them with, this creates some major fireworks. Check out ‘Amen’ in particular: Elvin sounds like he is ready to kill somebody rather than let Coltrane’s playing overwhelm him.
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Live in France July 27/28 1965

More of the same from the uneasy ‘Sun Ship’ period I like best, but this live recording captures Coltrane himself sounding slightly more amazing: his playing doesn’t really seem human at times.
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Om

Jazz doesn’t get much more extreme than this: first occult chanting that sounds like the prelude to a particularly sinister Aleister Crowley ritual, and then Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders go absolutely bonkers. I think this is officially supposed to be a lesser Coltrane effort, but nobody would think this if they listened hard to Coltrane’s solo, which must be a strong contender for the most impressive of his final period.