Although never formally signed, an oral agreement between John Coltrane and Blue Note Records founder Alfred Lion was indeed honored on Blue Train - Coltrane's only collection of sides as a principal artist for the venerable label. The disc is packed solid with sonic evidence of Coltrane's innate leadership abilities. He not only addresses the tunes at hand, but also simultaneously reinvents himself as a multifaceted interpreter of both hard bop as well as sensitive balladry - touching upon all forms in between. The personnel on Blue Train is arguably as impressive as what they're playing. Joining Coltrane (tenor sax) are Lee Morgan (trumpet), Curtis Fuller (trombone), Kenny Drew (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Philly Joe Jones (drums). The triple horn arrangements incorporate an additional sonic density that remains a trademark unique to both this band and album. Of particular note is Fuller's even-toned trombone, which bops throughout the title track as well as the frenetic "Moments Notice." Other solos include Paul Chambers' subtly understated riffs on "Blue Train" as well as the high energy and impact from contributions by Lee Morgan and Kenny Drew during "Locomotion." The track likewise features some brief but vital contributions from Philly Joe Jones - whose efforts throughout the record stand among his personal best. Of the five sides that comprise the original Blue Train, the Jerome Kern/Johnny Mercer ballad "I'm Old Fashioned" is the only cover tune in the stack. In terms of unadulterated sentiment, this version is arguably untouchable. Fuller's rich tones and Drew's tastefully executed solos cleanly wrap around Jones' steadily languid rhythms. This is sheer jazz nirvana.
In the spring of 1997, the Ultimate Blue Train CD was released, boasting 20-bit remastered audio as well as one alternate take of both "Blue Train" and "Lazy Bird." Additionally, the disc includes "At Least Listen"
- Lindsay Planer (All Music Guide)
========= from the cover ==========
John Coltrane has often been called a "searching" musician. His literally wailing sound-spearing, sharp and resonant creates what might best describe as an ominous atmosphere that seems to suggest (from a purely emotional standpoint) a kind of intense probing into things far off, unknown and mysterious. Admittedly such a description is valid only in a personal way but "searching" remains applicable to Trane in view of actual fact. He is constantly seeking out new ways to extend his form of expression-practicing continually, listening to what other people are doing, adding, rejecting, assimilating -molding a voice that is already one of the most important in modern jazz.
John's "sound" as mentioned in the lead is rather unique. It is certainly his most obvious trademark (similar to Dexter Gordon, his earliest and strongest influence) but has meaning apart from just a "different sound. His way of thinking is at one with his tonal approach. His ideas often seem to run in veering, inconsistent lines appearing at first to lack discipline but, like Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk (two of his closest musical associates, both of whom have been labeled by some as "eccentric" and/or "poorly equipped" instrumentalists) John is aware and in control of what he is doing. What may appear to be suddenly rejected is used, rather, as a basis for further exploration.
Born in Hamlet, North Carolina on September 23, 1926 John began his study of music with the alto horn and clarinet when he was fifteen. Later, after a hitch in the Navy, he played with King Colax, Eddie Vinson (switching to tenor), some spotted gigs with Howard McGhee at the Apollo in New York, Dizzy Gillespie's big band, Lonnie Slappey in Philadelphia, Guy Crosse in Cleveland, Earl Bostic and Johnny Hodges. In 1955 Trane joined the Miles Davis Quintet for what turned out to be more than a year and a half gig and is currently a member of the Thelonious Monk Quartet. (Incidentally, at this writing, the Monk unit was moving into its fifteenth consecutive week at the hip Five Spot in Greenwich Village). Trane feels that working with Miles and Monk have been "invaluable musical experiences." His employment with each of these giants has provided him with an education that most musicians could not acquire in a lifetime. In addition Miles, and now Monk (being of this school themselves) have never inhibited John's musical sense of freedom. He is able to experiment while on the stand with no fear of being called down and with a good chance of being congratulated.
John, though highly self-critical, has broad and varied tastes when it comes to others. His favorites are many; Miles ("His style of playing is very interesting to me. He has a very good knowledge of harmonics and chord structure. I used to talk with him quite often."), Dizzy, Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd, Joe Gordon, Hank Mobley, Johnny Griffin, Sonny Stitt, Cliff Jordan, Monk ("He plays with a whole range of chords. I had never heard anything like it before and I've learned a lot from him."), Red Garland, Kenny Drew, Phineas Newborn, Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones, Paul Chambers, Wilbur Ware, Earl May, Cannonball, Jackie McLean, Jay Jay Johnson, Curtis Fuller and Milt Jackson.
John has recorded previously for Blue Note with Paul Chambers (BLP 1534) and Johnny Griffin (BLP 1559).
Trane selected all the musicians used for this date. Lee Morgan, the exciting Gillespie - Navarro - Brown styled, young trumpet player who made his professional debut with Dizzy Gillespie when he was only eighteen and who, in a fantastically short period of time, has become an accepted front-runner on his instrument is also represented on Blue Note with five of his own albums (BLP 1538, 1541, 1557, 1575 and 1578), and with Hank Mobley (BLP 1540).
Curtis Fuller who, next to Jay Jay Johnson, is for this listener modern jazzdom's top trombonist can be heard on his own LPs (BLP 1569 and 1572) and as a sideman with Bud Powell (BLP 1571) and Cliff Jordan (BLP 1565). His conception continues to mature and increase in potency.
The rhythm section, comprised of Kenny Drew, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, is superb. Drew is a blues rooted pianist with a swinging, cohesive technique. Chambers and Jones are known primarily for their sparkling work with Miles Davis. They are both more than familiar with Trane's style having worked with him for an extensive period and assist in brilliant fashion. Paul fronts his own units on BLP 1534, 1564 and 1569 and is with Kenny Burrell (BLP 1523 and 1543), Lee Morgan (BLP 1541), Hank Mobley (BLP 1540) and Sonny Rollins (BLP 1558). Philly Joe has driven the groups of J. R. Monterose (BLP 1536), Chambers (1534), Clifford Brown (BLP 1526 and Morgan (BLP 1538).
The four impressive originals in this set are by Coltrane. The title number, 8/ue Train, is a moving, eerie blues. Trane rides swiftly down a lonesome track with Lee and Curtis shoveling extra coal into the boiler near the end of his solo. Lee follows with an energetic statement and is succeeded by a gutty Fuller. John and Lee riff behind Curtis just before he gives way to funky Kenny Drew. Chambers takes a brief but effective solo before the group returns to the theme.
Moment's Notice is a happy romper with expressive solos by Coltrane, Fuller, Morgan, Chambers (bowed) and Drew.
Locomotion, an uptempo blues begins with a rocking drum statement and a unison riff theme with Coltrane taking off on several "breaks" in between the repeated pattern before moving into his actual solo which, like those of Fuller, Morgan, Drew and Jones who follow, is played in a hard, slashing fashion.
I'm Old Fashioned, a pretty, old popular song that was suggested to Trane by a friend is rendered a delicate treatment. Here John is given a chance to display his warm handling of a ballad and shows
himself to be adept with tunes set in any tempo. Curtis, Kenny and Lee are also provided with solo space and their interpretations are sensitive and poignant.
Lazy Bird is faintly reminiscent of Todd Dameron's Lady Bird. After a short piano introduction Morgan (with a brief assist from the other horns), Fuller, Coltrane, Drew, Chambers (with bow) and Jones, take off in that order. Lee returns at the end to ride out over John and Curtis with the theme.
What is perhaps the most striking attribute (among many) about this LP is its free, but not disorganized, blowing mood that has everyone in exceptional form both individually and collectively.
-Robert Levin (original liner notes)