John Coltrane Plays for Lovers (1966) deserves to be considered apart from the reams of other Coltrane repackaged thematic compilations. Included are nearly 40 minutes of examples that acknowledge his remarkable capacity for naturally exquisite balladry. Considering this disc was initially issued just prior to 'Trane's death -- when the artist was primarily known for his leanings toward free jazz -- these half-dozen selections provide evidence of his tremendous facility and musical sensitivity. The contents were cherry-picked out of several different Coltrane sessions circa the Prestige era ( 1956-1958). "On a Misty Night" is from a late November of 1956 confab consisting of Tadd Dameron (piano), John Simmons (bass), and Philly Joe Jones (drums). The affable melody is nothing short of a dreamy invocation unto itself. Within the introduction Coltrane demonstrates a sweeter sound before Dameron's Thelonious Monk-like interjections ante up, bobbing and weaving through a double-time pace. Coltrane evolves into an earthier tonality as he goes through some sublimely tuneful improvising. "Violets for Your Furs" is the pinnacle of a May 1957 quartet also featuring Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Albert "Tootie" Heath (drums). The languid tempo allows the participants to infuse every measure with a refined sense of romanticism. Specifically worth noting is the delicate counterpoint between Garland and Coltrane and the reserved phrasing that helps Chambers unite the two. Both "Like Someone in Love" and "I Love You" hail from a mid-August of 1957 meeting with 'Trane leading a trio of Earl May (bass) and Art Taylor (drums). The lack of keyboard support allowed Coltrane to unleash longer and more inclusive solos. Particularly enticing are the lusty syncopated rhythms on the latter. They similarly suit the three-piece lineup as they have the capacity to quickly fluctuate between a hypnotic Eastern flavor to straight-ahead bop. On "You Leave Me Breathless" Coltrane is once again joined by Garland (piano), Chambers, and Taylor for one of 'Trane's signature Prestige sides. He oozes emotive warmth and Garland's exceptional comprehension of Coltrane's style results in a telepathic connection as the pianist is able to seamlessly interject himself into the proceedings. "Time After Time" was among the songs at Coltrane's final Prestige outing on December 26, 1958 and is another Garland, Chambers, and Taylor backed gem. Immediately evident is the increased fluidity in Coltrane's contributions that go far beyond a rote recitation. One can practically hear the harmonic advancements in his singular, melody-driven playing. For anyone who is even nominally curious about Coltrane, or simply wants an excellent anthology of the man at his most alluring, John Coltrane Plays for Lovers pretty much says it all.
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer