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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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THE JOHN COLTRANE
QUINTET

So Many Things:
The European Tour 1961

ACROBAT MUSIC ACQCD7085

 

 

CD1

Blue Train; I Want To Talk About You; Impressions; My Favourite Things

rec. L’Olympia, Paris, France, November 18th, 1961 (first house)

Blue Train

rec. L’Olympia, Paris, France, November 18th, 1961 (second house)

CD2

I Want To Talk About You; My Favourite Things

rec. L’Olympia, Paris, France, November 18th, 1961 (second house)

Announcement; Delilah; Everytime We say Goodbye; Impressions

Naima

rec. Falkonercentret, Copenhagen, Denmark, November 20th, 1961

CD3

My Favourite Things (false start) & John Coltrane announcement

My Favourite Things

rec. Falkonercentret, Copenhagen, Denmark, November 20th, 1961

Blue Train; I Want To Talk About You; Impressions; My Favourite Things

rec. Kulttuuritalo, Helsinki, Finland, November 22nd, 1961

CD4

Blue Train; Naima; Impressions; My Favourite Things

Konserthuset, Stockholm, Sweden, November 23rd, 1961 (first house)

My Favourite Things

Konserthuset, Stockholm, Sweden, November 23rd, 1961 (second house)

John Coltrane (tenor & soprano sax); Eric Dolphy (alto sax, bass clarinet & flute); McCoy Tyner (piano); Reggie Workman (bass); Elvin Jones (drums)

ACROBAT MUSIC ACQCD7085 (4 CD Set 69:02; 76:07; 76:15; 65:59)


The word ‘marmite’ is often used to express the idea that there are some things that divide opinion so markedly that people either love them or hate them with few falling in between. In Jazz that is the way that John Coltrane is most often described, some even professing a hatred for what he produced with people like Wellington Holliday summing up Coltrane’s Glasgow concert (part of his UK tour) as “Undoubtedly...the worst I have ever heard in my life”. That opinion was the polar opposite to Jazz News’ Danny Halperin who wrote that he considered the tour “an uncompromising triumph (giving) us the most exciting, the most delightfully demanding music ever heard on the British stage”. There are many other examples of these polarised opinions in the (as usual) excellent (38 page!) booklet notes written by Simon Spillett that accompanies this 4 CD set. Most if not all of us will have experienced, when discussing music with others, that we may often disagree about what we hear and the conclusion I’ve come to is that we frequently genuinely hear things differently to each other and how our brains process what we hear is often based upon what we have heard in the past and our opinions of that. While beauty is in the eye of the beholder sound is equally in the ear of the listener. As far as I’m concerned when it comes to the anti-Coltrane lobby I can only say it is their loss and I feel sorry for them!

Classical music lovers (of which I’m one) who do not know jazz would find it difficult to appreciate that while they seek an interpretation of their favourite music that generally sticks as close to the composers’ intentions as possible with the musicians producing a rendition that shows they know, understand and love what they are playing. For the same reasons classical music lovers who don’t know jazz and who pick up this 4 CD box set might justifiably puzzle as to why it includes 2 versions of Naima, 3 of I Want To Talk About You, 4 of Blue Train, 4 of Impressions, and no less than 6 of My Favourite Things. They might wonder how come there are only seven different tunes on a four disc set containing 21 music tracks. Jazz fans might try to explain that the way jazz is played relies on the musicians own interpretations and for the most part the main tune is simply a starting point, a springboard from which an exploration of what can be done with it ensues. In jazz the same tune played at different times should always sound differently to any previous occasion and full rein must be allowed for what usually turns out to be spontaneous creative excursions into what is possible. That’s what makes jazz the unique art form it is. It is also an explanation as to why the MJQ sounded innovative when they first came on the jazz scene but ultimately sounded stale, because they always seemed to want to recreate their music the same each time they played it as if on autopilot. As I wrote this the 25 minute rendition of My Favourite Things on the second CD had just come to an end; this was a tune that Coltrane had sometimes taken an hour over!

This CD set is entitled So Many Things a phrase taken from an interview John Coltrane gave to Jazz Journal in January 1962 in which he explained that he was constantly looking into all the things that need to be considered in music and about which he had yet to come to a conclusion. Whatever some people may think about Coltrane few surely would dispute the fact that he was a man who was unceasingly striving to push both himself and consequently the boundaries of music to the very limit of the possible. I don’t disagree that there are times when he seems close to that limit and that at that stage I too can find things can be difficult to truly enjoy but I don’t find that the case on any of the tracks on these 4 discs. Disc one does contain some amazing flights of fancy as Coltrane soars into the stratosphere and some might wonder whether everything on the set is going to follow a similar pattern. Well no, take Delilah on disc two, the only example of this Victor Young tune to appear in the set. While there are some points at which he could be called ‘wild’, for the most part it is an exercise in self restraint with some beautifully melodious sections in which, for example, McCoy Tyner shows why he is so highly thought of in jazz piano circles.

Delilah is followed by Everytime We say Goodbye which is played in a quite straightforward way in Coltrane terms with plenty of lyricism on display in its short five minute span. The same goes for Naima. I found the almost 29 minute version of My Favourite Things on disc 3 more lyrical a rendition than the one on disc 1 with some brilliant solos from McCoy Tyner and Eric Dolphy on flute soaring beautifully above the others. That’s also the case for the same tune when played on 22 November, 1961 in Helsinki though it weighs in a full 8 minutes shorter.

Disc four opens with Coltrane’s signature Blue Train in a blistering account where his tenor bursts onto the scene from the get go but in which all five musicians are beautifully matched. Naima follows in which Eric Dolphy’s bass clarinet makes for a supremely eloquent sound, rich and beguiling in equal measure in this short 4 minute version. In this first house session in Stockholm’s Konserthuset Impressions once again pushes the boundaries but still keeps within the limits sufficiently to avoid frightening anyone other than his already committed detractors. Close to the mike Coltrane seems to be duetting principally with Elvin Jones’ intelligent drumming. This set closed with another version of My Favourite Things and once again it is a lyrically rich version in which Eric Dolphy’s flute playing soars like a bird. I read with interest in Simon Spilletts’s notes that Coltrane felt somewhat confined by having Dolphy share the solo space observing “I don’t get a chance to stretch out” which sounds odd when presumably he could have taken any space he wanted at whatever point since he could extend any tune for as long as he wished to get his point across. As it is as Spillett points out Coltrane still remains the focus of attention with his horn weaving its magic above Jones’ cymbals.

The final offering on this four disc set is a final outing for this oft reworked piece that seems to be treated as a canvas on which Coltrane experiments with different elements and could stand for the very metaphor that jazz has to evolve or die. The experimentation that Coltrane has carried out on this song shows how different jazz is to classical though this is not to say that each does not have its own valid set of parameters but that jazz needs to stretch its own. Recently, however, there has been a spate of classical works that have been treated to experimentation with Nigel Kennedy’s recent release of his ‘reworking’ of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons perhaps the most notorious. Personally I do not find it strange to apply different standards to each genre and having heard an extract of Kennedy’s disc I have to say I am unconvinced to say the least. If I want to hear Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons I don’t want it to sound like something else. Whereas I don’t want every version of a jazz standard to sound the same; that to me is not jazz which as I mentioned before was the MJQ’s problem as far as I am concerned.

I agree with Simon Spillett’s assessment of this version of My Favourite Things that it is among the finest and most songlike I’ve heard and it is difficult to understand that anyone who loves jazz could take exception to any part of it. Perhaps the anti-Coltrane brigade might make this the exception that proves their rule though I still cannot see what they dislike about his playing. Someone once told me they thought Coltrane did untold damage to jazz because he has so many imitators but surely imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Coltrane was a trailblazer with few equals in jazz history and as such ‘taught’ generations that the only limits are due to one’s own imagination and that is a lesson that will, if taken up, lead to jazz continuing to evolve and thrill new audiences for generations to come.

This collection is a must have for all Coltrane fans and will, if given the chance, win over many new converts.

Steve Arloff



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