Blue Train

John Coltrane

(CD - Blue Note #4806203)

Review by Thom Jurek

Although never formally signed, an oral agreement between John Coltrane and Blue Note founder Alfred Lion was indeed honored on Blue Train -- Coltrane's only outing as a principal artist for the venerable label. It is inarguably one of the most iconic records in Blue Note's history. The set is packed solid with sonic evidence of Coltrane's innate leadership abilities even as he worked as a sideman with Thelonious Monk's group in between stints with Miles Davis's quintet. He not only addresses the tunes at hand with verve and sophistication, but simultaneously reinvents himself as a multifaceted, truly authoritative interpreter of hard bop as well as sensitive balladry, while touching upon all forms in between and swigning like mad. The personnel on Blue Train is as impressive as what they're playing. Joining Coltrane (tenor sax only) are Lee Morgan (trumpet), Curtis Fuller (trombone), Kenny Drew (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Philly Joe Jones (drums). The triple horn arrangements incorporate an additional sonic density that remains a trademark unique to both this band and album. Of particular note is Fuller's even-toned trombone, which bops throughout the title track as well as the frenetic "Moments Notice." Other solos include Paul Chambers' subtly understated riffs on "Blue Train" as well as the high energy and hard swing from Morgan and Drew during "Locomotion." The track likewise features some brief but vital contributions from Jones -- whose playing across the record stands with his personal best. Of the five sides that comprise the original Blue Train, the Jerome Kern/Johnny Mercer ballad "I'm Old Fashioned" is the only standard; in terms of unadulterated sentiment, this version is almost untouchable. Fuller's rich tones and Drew's tastefully executed solos cleanly wrap around Jones' steadily languid rhythms and Coltrane's pronounced lyricism. Without reservation, Blue Train is easily among the most important and influential entries not only in Coltrane's career or hard bop, but in the entire history of jazz.

[In 2022, Blue Note celebrated the 65th anniversary of Blue Train's recording with a pair of special 180-gram vinyl editions as part of the label's acclaimed Tone Poet series. A mono pressing of the original album was presented in a deluxe gatefold tip-on jacket. Blue Train: The Complete Masters includes a second disc in a gatefold jacket that offers seven alternate and incomplete takes never previously issued on vinyl -- four had never been released before in any format (a false start and alternate take of "Blue Train" as well as an alternate "A Moment's Notice" plus an incomplete take). The double-vinyl version also comes with a booklet featuring never-before-seen session photos by Francis Wolff and an essay by author Ashley Kahn. Both editions were produced by Joe Harley, mastered by Kevin Gray from the original analog master tapes, and pressed on 180g vinyl. Blue Train: The Complete Masters was also released digitally and as a double-CD set.]

Track Listing - Disc 1

Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1
John Coltrane 10:43 Amazon
2
John Coltrane 09:09 Amazon
3
John Coltrane 07:14 Amazon
4
John Coltrane 07:57 Amazon
5
John Coltrane 07:07 Amazon
blue highlight denotes track pick