John Coltrane: Giant Steps

Yet another reissue of Coltrane's chordal climax comes in 180g vinyl with two bonus tracks (not new discoveries though)

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Giant Steps was Coltrane’s fifth album as leader and his first recording for Atlantic. This latest in a long line of reissues of the title retains all the original tracks – Giant Steps, Cousin Mary, Countdown, Spiral, Syeeda’s Song Flute, Naima and Mr. P.C. (dedicated to Paul Chambers) as well adding two bonus tracks. The beautifully atmospheric Why Was I Born? is lifted from Coltrane’s 1958 album with Kenny Burrell, while Fifth House was originally on the 1961 album, Coltrane Jazz.

I can see the appeal of bonus tracks, particularly when the original recording is relatively short. New vinyl is not a cheap and record companies clearly want to offer either a different product from the original or something extra. Thankfully, the original liner notes by Nat Hentoff remain intact as does the album artwork. Hentoff is one of the greatest jazz writers of all times and always worth a read. Few of his publications remain in print but titles like Jazz Is and The Jazz Life can still be found on eBay.

Giant Steps remains a milestone album, the complexity of much of the music making it something of a rite of passage for aspiring saxophonists. Coltrane worried that his music sounded too academic and strove to make it more appealing to his audience. That conflict and his attempts to resolve it fed into his unique style. Hentoff said: “What makes Coltrane one of the most interesting jazz players is that he’s not apt to ever stop looking for ways to perfect what he’s already developed and also to go beyond what he knows he can do.”

This edition comes in the 180-gram vinyl which has almost become the standard these days. When vinyl was at the peak of its popularity, 120-150 grams was the norm, but even 200 grams is not unusual these days. Does it make the disc sound better? As with most things connected with hi-fi, that is a “dark art”. Fans will argue that the heavier weight creates greater stability and reduces vibration while sceptics respond that the only thing that really matters is the pressing and the quality of the master. All I can say is that this disc sounded better than my 50-plus-year-old version which, admittedly, has been used and abused a lot.

Discography
(1) Giant Steps; Cousin Mary; Countdown; Spiral; (2) Why Was I Born; Syeeda’s Song Flute; (3) Naima; Mr. P.C.; Fifth House (44.31)
Coltrane (ts) with:
(1) Tommy Flanagan (p); Paul Chambers (b); Art Taylor (d). New York, 4-5 May 1959.
(2) Kenny Burrell (g). Van Gelder Studios, Hackensack, New Jersey, 7 March 1958.
(3) Wynton Kelly (p); Paul Chambers (b); Jimmy Cobb (d). New York, 2 December 1959.
Waxtime In Color 950709