Sunday, November 20, 2005

Blue Train

OK, so i've had a look at the preceding posts, and it's fair to say that there are one or two obscurities in my jazz collection judging by the reviews i've been writing. So, then - a jazz classic for today...

Blue Train
Blue Note 53428

Recorded September 15th, 1957

1. Blue Train
2. Moment's Notice
3. Locomotion
4. I'm Old Fashioned
5. Lazy Bird


JOHN COLTRANE; tenor sax

It doesn't get much better than this. John Coltrane only ever recorded one session as leader for Blue Note, and what a session it was. He lined up a veritable who's who of hard bop and set off on a musical journey which stands as one of the finest recordings of his career, as well as one of the finest albums Blue Note has ever released.

If I can get personal for a moment. This was essentially the album that got me into jazz, and it's all my dad's fault. I don't remeber quite when it was, but Blue Train arrived in the house around the same time as his first CD player, and it would be fair to say that, had it been on vinyl, we would have listened to it until the groove was worn out. Sunday mornings, especially, for some reason, were Coltrane time, and we'd both sit there open-mouthed, marvelling at the incredible display of talent on show here.

You really do get it all. This is a record where the whole band get a chance to stretch out. You get the feeling that there was little planning when this was cut; once the theme was dispensed with, the soloists would blow for all they were worth in a bid to outdo the previous player. The sleeve note suggests that there's some free blowing going on here - and there is, in the 1957 sense - whilst the music is firmly in tempo and the harmonic structures of the pieces are adhered to (if a little stretched by Coltrane from time to time), the whole band uses that backdrop as a chance to explore their instruments. It's a bit like what I imagine a club gig of the time would have been like - fast tempos and even faster playing, with a definite air of competition between the soloists.

First prize goes to the title track - it's such a shame it was sequenced first as the album never quite reaches those dizzy heights again. The theme is well known now, and Coltrane's statement of intent that begins his first solo is followed by him launching into the sort of exploration that he's famous for, but that just didn't happen on hard bop records in those days. The band soon bring him back to earth (briefly), but the damage is done - you know by now that you're in for something special. Special mention must also be made of Lee Morgan, who is outstanding here. Only 19 years old, his playing is second only to Trane's for inventiveness. Curtis Fuller is also on good form here with some considered playing. And of course, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, the rhythm section made in heaven. I've recently discovered another CD featuring the combination of Chambers, Jones and Coltrane (have a look at this) which I highly reccomend.

This is one of those records that the critics love, and for once I'd have to agree - it really is fantastic and no jazz collection should be without a copy. Bop fans will love it's adherence to the hard bop principles, free jazz fans will see it as a vital stepping stone to the Coltrane material of the 1960's - it's worth remembering that he didn't play like this for long - soon after recording this LP he was back in Miles Davis' band playing modal jazz, and then he headed off in a freer direction with his classic 1960's quartet.

Read more about this album at allmusic, allaboutjazz and inkblot.

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