JJ 03/63: John Coltrane – Plays The Blues

Sixty years ago Graham Boatfield thought Trane playing the blues might help rebuild an image squandered on 25 minutes of mediocrity in 1962. First published in JJ March 1963

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The more fickle section of the modern jazz fancy had taken John Coitrane to its heart a year ago, to the exclusion of all other tenor players. As the most casual study of the jazz scene will show, and as Ronnie Scott has demonstrated in his London club, there are so many good contemporary tenor players that we are almost swamped with them. As an influence, Coltrane occupies a leading position; as a practitioner he is com­manding.

The tour which Coltrane made here last year, with Eric Dolphy, did no good at all to his public image; it stopped him dead in his tracks as a widely recognised cult figurehead. It did however establish a few other points – including the man’s basic seriousness. He is certainly not fooling about, and even 25 minutes of valuable time at a public concert, devoted to the soprano saxophone and the ex­amination of one mediocre theme, cannot force one to alter that conclusion.

This record may do something to reestablish the Coltrane image. It is a very feeling collection, full of potent and tragic expression. The opening “Blues To Elvin” forces an instant reminder of the Coltrane of 5 years ago, in its intensity, but without the “sheets of sound” of that time – this is far more stable and reflective.

Two of the tracks are taken on sop­rano, and in fact the first essentially played for and around that instrument’s potentialities. It says much for Coltrane that the soprano tracks, even when play­ed like this alongside his sonorous and moving tenor, do much to make that deplorable technician’s plaything sound tolerable. “Blues To Bechet” is not the highspot of the record, but it is a very good track indeed, outclassed only by the opening and closing “Blues To Elvin” and “Mr. Knight”.

To add to the leader’s own complexity, Elvin Jones’ drumming is extremely abstruse. The numbers which constitute this set are very varied. None of it can be taken for granted.

Discography
(a) Blues To Elvin; (b) Blues To Bechet; (b) Blues To You (21 min) – (a) Mr. Day; (a) Mr. Syms; (a) Mr. Knight (20½ min)
(a) John Coltrane (ten/sop): McCoy Tyner (p); Steve Davis (bs); Elvin Jones (d).
(b) No piano.
(London SH-K 8017 12inLP 32s. 2d.)