Coltrane Live at Birdland

COMPOSERS: Billy Eckstine,Coltrane
LABELS: Impulse!
ALBUM TITLE: John Coltrane
PERFORMER: John Coltrane (ts); McCoy Tyner (p); Jimmy Garrison (b); Elvin Jones (d)
CATALOGUE NO: IMP 11982 (distr. BMG)


This classic ‘middle period’ Coltrane from 1963 greatly benefits from the 20-bit mapping process and comes with one additional track, ‘Vilia’, the only surviving cut from a studio session on 6 March 1963. The opening track, ‘Afro-Blue’, reveals the emotional force of Coltrane’s playing and a solo that presents notes in groups of harmonically complex patterns.

Even though the harmonic base was simple, a two-chord vamp, Coltrane’s playing lost none of the complexity of his ‘early period’ that culminated in the landmark ‘Giant Steps’. He devised ways of creating harmonic complexity through chord-stacking, bombarding the listener with vertically dense passages of such coherence it appeared he was playing off a set of changes.

The album highlight is Coltrane’s treatment of Billy Eckstine’s ‘I Want to Talk About You’, a number he had been playing since 1958’s Soultrane. While he had acquired considerable notoriety for his sound-sheet technique, it is often overlooked that he was one of the strongest and most convincing ballad players jazz has ever known. What is memorable about this performance is the intensity of his playing, part self-inquisition, part spiritual quest.


Even during a ballad he conveyed the same sense of urgency that was apparent at faster tempi. Within two years Coltrane would be moving towards his ‘ final period’ and exploring free jazz. The effect on jazz of these three quite specific stages of Coltrane’s development was rather like the impact of Charlie Parker arriving in jazz three times. Coltrane’s talent was awesome and this album is a benchmark of what truly great jazz is all about. SN