Recorded in Hackensack, NJ; March 7, 1958.
For his final Prestige-related session as a sideman, John Coltrane (tenor sax) and Kenny Burrell (guitar) are supported by an all-star cast of Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums), and Tommy Flanagan (piano). This short but sweet gathering cut their teeth on two Flanagancompositions, another two lifted from the Great American Songbook, and a Kenny Burrell original. Flanagan's tunes open and close the album, with the spirited "Freight Trane" getting the platter underway. While not one of Coltrane's most assured performances, he chases the groove right into the hands of Burrell. The guitarist spins sonic gold and seems to inspire similar contributions from Chambers' bowed bass and Coltrane alike. Especially as the participants pass fours (read: four bars) between them at the song's conclusion. The Gus Kahn/Ted Fio Rito standard "I Never Knew" frolics beneath Burrell's nimble fretwork. Once he passes the reigns to Coltrane, the differences in their styles are more readily apparent, with Burrell organically emerging while Coltrane sounds comparatively farther out structurally. Much of the same can likewise be associated to Burrell's own "Lyresto," with the two co-leads gracefully trading and incorporating spontaneous ideas. While not as pronounced, the disparity in the way the performance is approached is a study in unifying and complementary contrasts. The delicate "Why Was I Born" is one for the ages as Burrell and Coltrane are captured in a once-in-a-lifetime duet. Together they weave an uncanny and revealing sonic tapestry that captures a pure and focused intimacy. This, thanks in part to the complete restraint of the ensemble, who take the proverbial "pause for the cause" and sit out. What remains is the best argument for the meeting of these two jazz giants. The performance can likewise be located on the various-artists Original Jazz Classics: The Prestige Sampler (1988) and Playboy Jazz After Dark (2002) and is worth checking out, regardless of where one might find it. In many ways the showpiece of the project is Flanagan's nearly quarter-hour "Big Paul." The pianist's lengthy intro establishes a laid-back bop-centric melody with his trademark stylish keyboards perfectly balancing Chambers and Cobb's rock-solid timekeeping. Coltrane's restraint is palpable as he traverses and examines his options with insightful double-time flurries that assert themselves then retreat into the larger extent of his solo. Those interested in charting the saxophonist's progression should make specific note of his work here.
All Music Guide
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During his final months with Miles Davis' group, John Coltrane participated in a number of recording sessions for Prestige independently of Davis (though frequently with one or more members of Davis' rhythm section) in both leader and sideman roles. Many of the resultant albums, of which this is one, have already been released-still more are to follow.
Coltrane no longer plays in quite the same way that he did in 1958, the year this recording was made (in that year he was playing differently than he had in 1956), and there are many who believe that this was his most creative period. Perhaps it was, but growth is perpetual new beginnings and for Coltrane to have remained where he was would have meant for him not only to deny a possibility of greater expression in his music (a possibility I think he has realized) but to reduce the vitality of what he was already into, as well.
The Davis unit (the original Quintet with Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones comprising the rhythm section) was perhaps the single most important group in jazz of the late fifties and Davis himself was the single most important instrumentalist of that decade. Coltrane's growth was immeasurably nourished and accelerated by Davis' influence and the tenor saxophonist quickly became the leading force on his instrument.
But in this record, as in his others of the time, including those with Davis, one can hear Coltrane in the process of breaking away from what were coming to be restrictions within the Davis context and frame of reference. What Coltrane had learned from his stint with Thelonious Monk was not an insignificant factor. If an artist is going to say something original he must necessarily find a new form with which to say it. This album and other documents of Coltrane's earlier work, are insights into the stages of development toward that end and the new beginnings to follow it, of a major jazz artist.
There used to be a great deal of talk about Coltrane's lack of "discipline" in recordings such as this one outside the Davis group. What was meant by that criticism was that Coltrane seemed to be going in any number of directions at once, that his solos were often without at least an accessible sense of order, and that his ideas were frequently unresolved. This is not without truth, but it is also beside the point, certainly beside the most important point anyway, for if Coltrane had taken heed of such criticism he might never have discovered the true size and breadth of his talent. At any rate, and as this album will testify, he gave us music of great beauty, emotional impact, and urgency during that period. Here, on the opener, Freight Trane his solo begins with what has been called the "shock effect" open cry that is almost a Coltrane trademark, and that "cry" and (one keeps returning to the term) the sense of urgency that is one of the uniquenesses of his sound, are integral facets of the immediacy and charge of all his solos on this record.
Kenny Burrell, whose date this was, plays, I think, exceptionally well with Coltrane and would seem to have been extended by him. One might go directly to the brief rendition of Why Was I Born?, on which only Burrell and Coltrane participate, to hear one very lovely result of their juxtaposition. Though he has been challenged by Wes Montgomery and, more recently, by Grant Green, Burrell remains the leading guitarist of neo-Bop pursuasion and the standard-bearer of the Charlie Christian tradition. He plays, on this recording, with both fire and eloquence and his solos on Freight Trane, Big Paul and I Never Knew are among his best on records. Lyresto, incidently, which provides for what is probably Coltrane's best solo here, is Burrell's line.
Much of the credit for the success of this session can be claimed by the frequently brilliant rhythm section. Tommy Flanagan, whose accomplishment as a "comper" has come to overshadow his abilities as a soloist, delivers imaginatively potent work in the latter as well as the former role and has several especially good solos on Freight Trane and the extended introduction to Big Paul. Paul Chambers who has worked with Miles Davis since the inception of the original Quintet was a primary component of that group's extraordinary stature. His solos on Freight Trane, I Never Knew, Lyresto (bowed) and Big Paul are exemplary demonstrations of his achievement. Jimmy Cobb, also from the Davis rhythm section, is the steady time-keeper.
Burrell, the rhythm section and the "new" Coltrane, would probably not meet on such equitable terms were they to record today. But that has nothing to do with what they were able to accomplish together in this album. And that was the creation of a music of high order and occasional revelation.