Tuesday, March 07, 2006

John Coltrane & Don Cherry

The Avant-Garde
Atlantic SD 1451

Recorded June 28 & July 8, 1960

1. Cherryco
2. Focus On Sanity
3. The Blessing
4. The Invisible
5. Bemsha Swing


JOHN COLTRANE; tenor, soprano
DON CHERRY; trumpet

Here's a fascinating album. While recording for Atlantic in the late 1950s, John Coltrane sought to extend the range of his music, starting out on a journey that would ultimately lead to albums like 'Ascension'. He was fascinated by free-jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman, and inevitably their paths collided on this 1960 recording featuring Coltrane with Coleman's band.

If you come to this album expecting Coltrane to slip nicely into the shoes of a free-jazz maestro, you'd be disappointed. The opener, 'Cherryco' sees Coltrane creating an island of traditional harmony in the midst of Cherry's harmolodic ocean, and 'Focus On Sanity' is even worse for him - after a brief solo he simply gives up, perhaps realising that he can't yet cut it with a band schooled by Coleman himself. Cherry, on the other hand, is outstanding on these 2 tracks, 'Focus...' especially, where he gets much more space than he ever did on albums like 'The Shape Of Jazz To Come'. You can tell that he's really been listening to his master. Probably owing as much to Coltrane's status as anything else this album is billed as having joint leadership - but the baton is very much in Cherry's hand.

Fortunatley for Coltrane fans, a transformation occurs midway through 'The Blessing'. Coltrane, on soprano, starts another solo by firmly anchoring himself to a very traditional-sounding scale - then totally smashes through that convention with a strong solo that sees Cherry panting to catch up. It's an outstanding, hugely confident piece of playing that's all the more powerful for having come after two relatively poor performances. One can only speculate why this piece is so powerful. Perhaps Coltrane was more at ease with the material, this track being an early Coleman composition. Or maybe he had just got warmed up.

This is Coltrane's high point - the remaining two tracks on the album aren't great for him. Once again he's lost without a harmonic centre to the music and has to firmly mark out his chords, sounding heavy handed amid the nimble backing. Atlantic didn't release this album at the time - perhaps they were a little concerned for quality control - but to listen to now it's a fascinating document of Coltrane in his transitional period as well as being an early high-water-mark for Cherry.

1 comment:

Peter MacDonald said...

I have the CD reissue... I've never seen that cover before. Nice!