John Coltrane live recordings 1963/65

It seems like a lamely unimaginative way to spend one’s time – immersing oneself in Coltrane. But when a recording you thought you knew intimately, and could “switch off from” – i.e use as background music – suddenly reveals itself to you as if brand new, alerting you to details you(?thought you)’d forgotten – you find yourself remembering the truth of the maxim that we should never take genius for granted.

Today I rediscovered the first Philadelphia Showboat recording.  It was recorded on the sort of equipment you associate with audience bootlegs – and the sound is as good [a moment of digital distortion notwithstanding] as you could hope for from a 1963 bootleg.  But – it’s definitely worth acclimatising to that.  Because if you only wanted one Coltrane live recording from the intermediary period (i.e 1962 through 1964, in between the two creative peak years) – this would be it.  The quartet (which inspite of what you may have read, definitely includes Jones, not Haynes) has never played better.

We get full-tilt versions of two not-so-obvious quartet standards – “The Promise” (incomplete and often misidentified as “Afro Blue”) and “Out Of This World”, and the ubiquitous “Mr PC” in which the blues changes are by now irrelevant (it may be significant that the drum solo happens here).  Then there’s a surprise revival of “Good Bait” which shows how far this group had already traveled from bebop-style chordal improvisation (as soon as his solo starts, Tyner sounds like he’s regretting the choice of tune and is eager to bust out of it – when Coltrane starts it’s the pianist who drags him into harmonically unstable territory).  And the highlight – a very long “Impressions” which I recommend as a corrective to anyone who’d been gravely disappointed by that equally large version of “One Down One Up”.  That was monotonous and slow to lift-off.  This isn’t – this is the shattering rollercoaster riode you were hoping for.  Worthy of Coltrane’s reputation – and Jones’s.

Later the same day I jumped into the (not-released-on-Impulse) Half Note broadcasts These are classic specimens of the 1965 sound – “we’re still playing the old repertoire but we’re going to burst the tonality and rhythm if it takes a collective heart attack!” So, even more “where does Elvin find the energy?” and “whoever said Tyner wasn’t on the same page?” moments.  The session that hasn’t turned up on a million budget CDs – but is usually on YouTube – is most in need of promotion.  It’s the one with a long version of “I Want To Talk About You” in which Coltrane doesn’t bother with a cadenza because he’s already poured it all out, half-buoyed and half-dragged by the others…followed by, let’s just say, something resembling “Brazilia”, which shares a few stock licks with the Antibes version of “Resolution” and is possibly even more intense.  Of course the historical highlight is the untitled original known unofficially as “Creation” – a foretaste of Coltrane’s immediate future in the nagging bird-call tone of the theme, the increasing atonality of the improvisation and the sheer energy on display.  But let’s not forget the “budget-CD” version of “Impressions” (actually from March 19th) with the ever accumulating tempo and the Coltrane/Jones duet that really sounds like a dry run for the Antibes “Pursuance”.