This isn't the first CD that has had the title The Very Best of John Coltrane, and one can safely assume that it won't be the last. The focus of this 74-minute collection is Coltrane's Impulse output -- specifically, modal post-bop that he recorded from 1961-1964. The disc doesn't get into the blistering atonal free jazz he embraced from 1965-1967, which is just as well because even though much of that material is brilliant, it isn't for everyone -- at least not novices and casual listeners who are exploring the saxophonist's work for the first time. And for those who need a dose of introductory Coltrane, this release generally favors the more essential recordings that he provided for Impulse. That includes "Acknowledgement," "Bessie's Blues," and "Crescent," as well as legendary encounters with Duke Ellington ("In a Sentimental Mood") and singer Johnny Hartman ("Lush Life"). Because Impulse didn't have access to Coltrane's famous Atlantic recordings of "My Favorite Things" and "Naima," they chose live versions from various Impulse releases -- both of which are excellent, but not essential. This CD would have been better off with "After the Rain," "Miles' Mode," or "India," none of which are included. Also questionable is Impulse's decision to include a previously unreleased 1962 studio performance of "Impressions," which should have been saved for a collection of rarities -- this is supposed to be a best-of, after all. But all things considered, The Very Best of John Coltrane can serve as a rewarding introduction to the saxman's Impulse period. While this 2001 release is hardly the last word on Coltrane's legacy, it is one of the CDs to start out with for novices.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson