John Coltrane: Plays The Blues

The saxophonist's blues-titled 1960 album had an attractive and atypical restraint and didn't always sound like the blues

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The 1960 Play The Blues album (here augmented with Trane blues from elsewhere) is an oddity. No St Louis, Beale Street or Memphis and no singing. In fact Coltrane’s dour approach doesn’t strike an emotional blow at the blues and indeed technically most of his instrumentals here aren’t true blue blues at all.

That is not to say that this unusual album doesn’t have a great deal of appeal. It’s not as declamatory as his usual displays but, particularly in the trio and quartet tracks, there is a reduced tension and John is obviously very comfortable with Tyner backing him. That goes double for Elvin, and the album should be a guide book to accompaniment for drummers.

The tracks were collected from a variety of sessions during what was probably his most prolific recording period (here done for Atlantic). It’s interesting that, on Groove Blues, he harks back to his first instrument, the alto. He has all his eloquent articulation in place, but the murky tone is not appealing and one can hear why he rarely returned to the horn. Groove Blues opens with a substantial but uncredited flute solo. Who played it? (The collective personnel below is as given on the sleeve.)

These sessions have a more restrained quality than John’s more usual eruptive output, and that’s an attraction that should not be overlooked.

Discography
CD1: (1) Blues To Elvin; Blues To Bechet; Blues To You; Mr Day; Mr Syms; Mr Knight; (2) Village Blues; The Late Late Blues; Some Other Blues; Blues Legacy; Mary’s Blues (77.32)
CD2: Trane’s Slow Blues; Chronic Blues; Bass Blues; Groove Blues; Slowtrane; Sweet Sapphire Blues; Equinox; Blue Train (76.43)

Coltrane (ts) with:
(1) McCoy Tyner (p); Steve Davis (b); Elvin Jones (d). NYC, 24 October 1960.
(2) Collectively: Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan (t); Gene Ammons (ts); Cecil Payne, Pepper Adams (bs); Milt Jackson (vib); McCoy Tyner, Hank Jones, Red Garland, Mal Waldron, Wynton Kelly (p); Steve Davis, Paul Chambers (b); Elvin Jones, Art Taylor (d). New Jersey and NYC, 1957-60.
Poll Winners Records PWR 27353