Thursday, March 16, 2006


Prestige 7105
Recorded 1957

Side One

1. Bakai
2. Violets For Your Furs
3. Time Was

Side Two

1. Straight Street
2. While My Lady Sleeps
3. Chronic Blues


JOHN COLTRANE; tenor sax
SAHIB SHIHAB; baritone sax
AL HEATH; drums

John Coltrane recorded this, his first album for Prestige and his first as leader, at a time in 1957 when he was between jobs with Miles Davis. He had been an important part of Miles’ first great quintet, and still had much to contribute to the second incarnation of that band. Miles had fired him owing to his unpredictable behaviour brought on by drug addiction, but this album showcases a cleaned-up ‘Trane storming through a strong set of bluesy originals, and a couple of standards.

What’s immediately obvious is ‘Trane’s tone. He always had a big sound, and that characteristic is emphasised here in his playing against Shihab’s baritone. A lesser tenor would wilt in comparison to such a big-sounding horn, but ‘Trane just piles on, sounding at times like he’s the one on baritone. Stellar stuff.

‘Bakai’ kicks off with Shihab circling around a vaguely eastern riff before the band kick in with a set of well-considered bluesy solos. ‘Time Was’ is also a blues, and is a feature for Garland’s intricate yet swinging style. ‘Trane plays well throughout, but saves his best for side 2. ‘Straight Street’, and even more, ‘Chronic Blues’ chronicle his struggle with drug addiction. ‘Straight Street’ is just that – a hard-bop styled blues with some great unison ensemble playing around the theme. Shihab’s baritone really adds colour to this date, and this piece in particular. ‘Trane is the star, though. His solo may be brief but it just flies off and gets about as far from typical hard bop as anyone had in 1957. It’s in sharp contrast to Splawn, who comes up next with a straightahead, Clifford Brown-style effort that sounds plain by comparison. Anywhere else it’d have been considered a masterpiece, but next to Coltrane’s wilful experimentation it just doesn’t cut it. Also suffering at the hands of Coltrane is Shihab – his ideas are there, but he doesn’t always have the technical ability to carry them off at times, so is left sounding uncertain and more than a little lost.

‘Chronic Blues’ repeats the trick of ‘Straight Street’, except that it turns up the blues feeling until you feel that you’re right there with ‘Trane going through cold turkey. As a representation of the ravages of hard drugs on jazz musicians it has yet to be bettered.

Inspired by being clean, his new wife Naima, and his renewed faith, Coltrane went on to record prolifically for Prestige over the following year, and continued throughout his employment with Miles. But it all started here, and those looking for the roots of his later innovations will find something to enjoy about all the late 50s Prestige records.

1 comment:

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