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The Impulse Story: John Coltrane

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Album Review

Budget-line, one-disc compilations documenting a particular recording artist's contributions to a label are a dime-a-dozen. They are, in many cases, tossed off for quick sale. The Impulse Story series provides an exception to that all-too-frequent rule. In fact, the series is accompanying the publication of Ashley Kahn's book's The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records. The other titles include albums by Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, McCoy Tyner (all of whom played with Trane) Albert Ayler (whom Trane mentored), Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Gato Barbieri, and Keith Jarrett. There is also a four-CD box set that goes into more depth and carries the same title as Kahn's book. The box and single-disc issues were compiled by him as well. Arguably, it is difficult to surmise, over a single disc, John Coltrane's contribution to Impulse. His growth as a bandleader, improviser, and composer grew by leaps and bounds while at the label — so much so that it is nigh impossible to gauge — there was no scale or frame of reference for the direction Coltrane took; a direction similar to that of his former boss, Miles Davis, who went in both similar and opposite directions at the same time with his electric bands. Coltrane's Impulse Story contains nine tunes. None of this material is unreleased; indeed, that is not the point of the series at all. It charts Coltrane's development from his Africa Brass period in 1961 through to his final planned release, Expression, in 1967. "Greensleeves" is here with the enormous band which included Eric Dolphy and Julian Priester, Booker Little, and many others. The trio version of "Chasin' the Trane" is taken from Live at the Village Vanguard, The Master Takes. These cuts are obvious choices, as are the rest: "Tunji," from Coltrane in 1962; the title track from Impressions recorded a few days before in the same year; "After the Rain," from the same album; "Bessie's Blues," from Crescent in 1964; "Part One, Acknowledgement," from A Love Supreme; the seminal and still outrageous "The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost," from the second Meditations album, with Pharoah Sanders, and the twin drummers Elvin Jones and Rashied Ali, along with Jimmy Garrison and McCoy Tyner. It closes with the brief and beautiful "Ogunde," with the new quartet of Alice Coltrane, Garrison, and Ali. As previously stated, one can argue choices all day long and not get anywhere, but if you are looking for an overview or introduction to Coltrane's seminal Impulse period, this disc will better than suffice, though it must be stated that A Love Supreme stands on its own and should be purchased as well.

Biography

Born: 23 September 1926 in Hamlet, NC

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s

Despite a relatively brief career (he first came to notice as a sideman at age 29 in 1955, formally launched a solo career at 33 in 1960, and was dead at 40 in 1967), saxophonist John Coltrane was among the most important, and most controversial, figures in jazz. It seems amazing that his period of greatest activity was so short, not only because he recorded prolifically, but also because, taking advantage of his fame, the record companies that recorded him as a sideman in the 1950s frequently reissued...
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