CD Review of Soultrane by John Coltrane
Recommended if you like
Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins,
Wayne Shorter
Label
Prestige/Concord
John Coltrane: Soultrane

Reviewed by Michael Fortes

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O
h, those sheets of sound… this is where it all started, or at least where the phrase that we all came to associate with John Coltrane’s rapid note clusters originated. These note clusters became a trademark of sorts, though on Soultrane, he used them more sparingly than he would in later years.

Essentially recorded by three-fifths of Miles Davis’ “first great quintet” – what more can be said about the competency of pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and Trane himself? – along with drummer Arthur Taylor, Soultrane is a fairly straight-ahead affair (Trane himself never did record any true “soul jazz” recordings), consisting entirely of interpretations of others’ tunes. The first of the album’s ballads, “I Want to Talk About You” (Freddie Lacey’s “Theme for Ernie” is the other, and though technically it’s an elegy, few will hear it that way unless they seek its history)  is probably the best known, though it’s the ironically hectic take on Irving Berlin’s “Russian Lullaby” that lends the album its significance. It’s this track which led Down Beat jazz critic Ira Glitter to coin the phrase “sheets of sound” in his liner notes, and those original liners are here in all their iconic glory (not to mention the cool mid-century modern front cover art).

The other selections rounding out Soultrane fortunately have not been played out to the point of repulsion, nor are they overly sweet or ponderous. And when looking at the credits, “You Say You Care” would appear to be a complete obscurity, as composers Joe Stein and Leo Robin are far from household names, and even Glitter himself admitted not being familiar with the tune in his liner notes. It’s a performance that finds Trane playing at a pace and with a feel that suggests he was already in Giant Steps territory and just waiting for the right time to make his move. But then the Tad Dameron-Count Basie tune “Good Bait” hearkens back to Dizzy Gillespie’s big band explorations during the bebop era, though Trane’s small group arrangement highlights the melody above all and gets the album off to a pretty laid back start. It actually works in the sense that it gives the album’s closing blast of “Russian Lullaby” even greater power.

He would record more iconic standards (i.e. Rodgers and Hart’s “My Favorite Things” and Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue”) once his musical personality was too much of a force not to ignore, but these five selections are all still top-shelf Trane by any measure. Maybe not as exciting as his Atlantic or Impulse! sessions, but classy and enjoyable nonetheless.

Concord’s vinyl reissue is not the high-end vanity piece that Analogue Productions’ double 12-inch 45 RPM set aspires to be. Nope, it’s just a standard weight issue, pretty much identical to what we’ve seen in record shops in the ‘90s. And other than a little bit of distortion coming from the grooves toward the end of “I Want to Talk About You” near the end of side one, the record sounds perfectly fine. It is how it was meant to be heard in the first place, and having the old black and yellow Prestige labels intact as well is an added bonus. Kudos to Concord for preserving not just the musical spirit of the recording, but the visual one as well.

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