impulserecords

Elvin Jones / McCoy Tyner ‘Illumination’

There was a series of old television advertisements for Reese’s Peanut Butter cups where the meeting of a chocolate bearing individual and a peanut butter toting individual resulted in an initial moment of outrage:
Chocolate person: “You got peanut butter on my chocolate!”
Peanut Butter Person: “Well, *you* got chocolate in my peanut butter!”
All was well moments later as the calming narrator’s voice assured us that “two great tastes that taste great together” was the outcome. That’s also what you’ve got with ‘Illumination!’ On this 1963 date for Impulse! John Coltrane’s famous rhythm section of Elvin Jones-drums, Jimmy Garrison-bass, and McCoy Tuner-piano, met up in the studio with the edgy frontline of Prince Lasha-clarinet/flute, Sonny Simmons-alto sax/English horn, & Charles Davis-baritone sax. While the frontline wasn’t nearly as well-known as Trane’s gang and came from a freer stylistic place, they are wonderfully simpatico with the rhythm section. They also brought their “A” game, playing adventurously but with tremendous swing. There aren’t blasts of atonality, deliberate attempts to drive melody from the room, or abrasive avant-garde games of “where’s the 1?”. Instead, the six tracks which play out over 30 minutes are chock full of killer solos that take flight over deep bluesy grooves. There are also drum/alto conversations that make any talk you had today seem comparatively boring, and some inside/outside playing that makes you want to explore the music of every player on this record even more deeply. Davis takes a more straightforward approach than Lasha/Simmons, but his playing is exemplary—I need to hear more of his work. Lasha/Simmons had already recorded the excellently edgy ’The Cry’ for Contemporary in ’62. While that record is pretty great, the MUST-HEAR record they made is the difficult-to-find-but-worth-searching-for ‘Firebirds,’ also recorded for Contemporary in ’67. Great stuff

John Coltrane ‘Crescent’

Coltrane and his classic quartet establish a meditative vibe of energy and sanctity for 90 seconds before dropping into one of my favorite ’Trane grooves. “Crescent” swings with a combo of questing and certainty—they’d go supernova on the next official release with ‘A Love Supreme,’ but here they’re floating effortlessly above terra firma rather than actively seeking to transcend it. It’s the best nine-minute journey you’ll take all day. The interplay between Coltrane and drummer Elvin Jones in the beautiful ballad “Wise One” is a masterclass in the use of understatement to speak volumes. This is doing more with less, choosing the right note at the right time with a great deal of sensitivity, rather than his “construction through destruction” or “sheets of sound” style of playing, and he nails it. The short, almost interlude piece “Bessie’s Blues” is a toe-tapper, with an upbeat bounce that demonstrates that as heavy as this quartet could be, they were also extraordinarily light on their feet when they wanted to be. Side B of the record is an interesting counterpoint to the A-Side—Trane doesn’t solo at all. That said, he’s still the guiding light, setting a somber mood with the (now) standard “Lonnie’s Lament.” The tune has one of my favorite piano solos—it is perfectly realized in every way. “Lonnie’s Lament” also has a Garrison bass solo that’s inventive, tuneful, and might hold the attention of those who’d usually use the bass solo as an excuse to go get a beer. The closing track “The Drum Thing” is a showcase for Jones (and a likely precursor to John Bonham’s “Moby Dick” workout from the mighty II) who is front and center. Like Garrison’s solo in the previous track, Jones plays a series of shifting patterns, tones, and styles that’s engaging, interesting, and incredibly impressive. ‘Crescent’ was recorded this day, 27 April, back in 1964. It stands in the mighty shadow of its follow-up ‘A Love Supreme’ for a good reason—most records stand in the shadow of ‘A Love Supreme’—but that doesn’t diminish the power, grace, and creativity that emanates from every groove. Essential

Elvin Jones ‘Dear John C.’

Elvin’s name may be on the masthead, but this record is all about altoist Charlie Mariano and bassist Richard Davis. The entire record is a wonderful team effort, but my attention is continually drawn to Davis and Mariano and, in particular, Mariano’s alto work, which is some of his best playing on record. Piano duties fall to either Roland Hanna or Hank Davis, both of whom play very well too. This is an under-discussed title in the Elvin Jones catalog, and worth hearing if for no other reason than to hear what Mariano is capable of on an inspired day

Coltrane

Trane’s classic quartet creates a 5-star album, weaving DNA from ‘Ole!’, ‘My Favorite Things,’ and the nascent ideas that would build ‘A Love Supreme’ and ‘Crescent.’ @johncoltrane fans had a lot to unpack in the early 60s. The success of his Atlantic recordings like ‘Giant Steps’ and ‘My Favorite Things’ catalyzed a flood of reissues from his late 50s hard bop Prestige sessions. Simultaneously Trane was pissing-off critics with what they described as an “anti-jazz,” avant-garde-tinged residency with Eric Dolphy at the Village Vanguard. He made his first (and last) big band record. So when this record appeared in the shops who knew WHAT to expect? Greatness. Expect greatness. While it’s impossible to know an artist’s mind, perhaps the criticism of Trane’s edgier music stung. So while the same drive and energy of the Vanguard gigs are present here, the sharp edges are absent. The opening 14-minute, aptly-titled of “Out of This World” is a profound modal excursion, as strong as anything the quartet recorded for the label. You get a moment to catch your breath with the lovely balladry of Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes” before getting thrown back into intensity with an almost unrecognizable take on “The Inch Worm” (the first track to be recorded for this LP). The heat continues with the Trane original “Tunji,” named for percussionist Babatunde Olatunji. Here, Trane & Co leverage their collective skills as a team, with a deceptively simple piano/bass chord structure upon which Trane weaves a powerful, complex solo; and suddenly, somehow by the time McCoy Tyner is building a helluva solo of his own, it’s a blues number. Also, Elvin Jones deserves a Nobel Prize for his drumming on this track—superb. The album closes with Trane’s “Miles’ Mode,” an all-out, full-contact throwdown where everyone comes to play and play HARD. Restraint? That’s the other guy’s problem. So all-in-all, this mysteriously under-valued title in John Coltrane’s impressive catalog is a MUST HEAR, and in my opinion, MUST OWN title. Spin it now. You’ll be glad you did

The John Coltrane Quartet Plays

Standing in the long, tall, wide, deep shadow of its predecessor ‘A Love Supreme’, this record deserves your undivided attention. Recorded in Feb & May 1965 with @johncoltrane doubling on tenor and soprano saxophones, he and his classic quartet proceed to make quite the exploratory epic out of Disney’s “Chim Chim Cheree” which—depending on how firmly it’s stuck in your head—is either the most interesting or most annoying tune from ‘Mary Poppins’. In a sense, the approach is similar to the modal masterpiece of ‘My Favorite Things’—a moment or two on the core melody and then toss the rulebook out the window. That’s where the similarity ends though. Whereas MFT was built on an undercurrent of joy, CCC is more restless. Unsettled. Busy. In search of. Occasionally chaotic. None of these observations are criticisms. If anything they underscore the depth and breadth of Trane’s artistry, and his ability to approach another popular waltz without necessarily repeating himself. This familiar-yet-different mindset holds true for ‘Brazilia’ as well—he’d debuted this song a few years earlier on ‘At the Village Vanguard’ but the studio version here is even more visceral, edgy and powerful. This track alone makes me reach for this album over and over again. The other two tracks on the LP veer closer to the spiritual questing vibe of ‘A Love Supreme’, with bassist Art Davis joining Jimmy Garrison on “Nature Boy” to add another layer of low end gravitas. Enjoy this record on its own merits, not in comparison with what came before. This is the 2011 Analogue Productions reissue, 2XLP 45RPM and sounding wonderful