John Coltrane


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John Coltrane presents several challenges to anyone trying to compile "an introductory collection" of his recordings, as annotator Ashley Kahn describes this 125-minute, two-disc set. Coltrane recorded prolifically; he recorded for several different record labels that, despite decades of corporate mergers and takeovers, remained separate as of 2006; and he changed styles radically during his career. The major label Universal Music Entertainment, as the owner of the Impulse! Records catalog, controls his recordings made from the middle of 1961 until his death six years later, the bulk of his work as a leader, and is thus well positioned to attempt a best-of. Hip-O, the label's reissue imprint, improves on this position by licensing tracks from his work for Blue Note and Atlantic prior to his Impulse! tenure. (Nothing has been licensed from his first record company affiliation to Prestige, now controlled by Concord; and none of his early efforts as a sideman are included.) These are key tracks: the album opens with the title song from Blue Note's Blue Train, his second album as a leader and a tune that is heard with sufficient frequency in public places that many people who don't know much about John Coltrane will recognize it. The two selections from the Atlantic Giant Steps album are also vital inclusions, and the third Atlantic licensing, "My Favorite Things," is a Coltrane signature tune. These relatively conventional performances ease the listener in to some of the more difficult Impulse! material, which starts with the sixteen-and-a-half minute "Africa" from the first Impulse! LP, Africa/Brass. The first disc ends, surprisingly, with "Spiritual" from Live at the Village Vanguard, when most Coltrane fans would have expected "Chasin' the Trane." The omission of this definitive track is the only really puzzling one on the set. On the second disc, Richard Seidel, who is credited with making the selections, opens with the challenging "Impressions" from the 1962 album called simply Coltrane. Then, just as Coltrane did, he pulls back to a more accessible sound with tracks from the Duke Ellington duo album, the standards collection Ballads, and the Coltrane/Johnny Hartman album before plunging on with freer and more difficult music and closing with an excerpt from A Love Supreme, Coltrane's most popular album. In so doing, Seidel demonstrates that a compiler need not make the choice between sequencing for listening pleasure and sequencing chronologically to tell an artist's story, as long as the right choices are made. Except for the missing "Chasin' the Trane," Gold presents the tracks most Coltrane fans would choose given the impossible task of compressing his legacy into an introductory two hours.

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