John Coltrane

John Coltrane: Ken Burns Jazz

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In conjunction with the release of Ken Burns' ten-part, 19-hour epic PBS documentary Jazz, Columbia issued 22 single-disc compilations devoted to jazz's most significant artists, as well as a five-disc historical summary. Since the individual compilations attempt to present balanced overviews of each artist's career, tracks from multiple labels have thankfully been licensed where appropriate. The John Coltrane installment gives equal time to Coltrane's Atlantic and Impulse output. Tracks from the landmark masterpieces Giant Steps, My Favorite Things, and A Love Supreme (among others) help trace the progression of Coltrane's style, from the complex chords and fiery sheets-of-sound approach that marked his early Atlantic albums, to the more extended meditations on less complicated pieces, and through to the free, intensely spiritual feel of his later work. If there's a flaw in the collection, it's that only one track is taken from his post-A Love Supreme period, during which he leaned most heavily toward the avant-garde; thus, Ken Burns Jazz doesn't quite sum up Coltrane's impact on free jazz. But it does offer a concise snapshot of some of Coltrane's most important work, and since the compilation draws from multiple labels, it makes a great introduction to the various phases of his career.

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