JJ 01/64: John Coltrane – Impressions

Sixty years ago Graham Boatfield found Coltrane's 1961 live set largely experimental, obsessed, stark and comfortless. First published in Jazz Journal January 1964


Coltrane records, over the last couple of years, have fallen into two groups – those which are frankly experimental, usually agonised and soul searching, like the set which includes The Inch Worm; and the more straightforward, including the recent Ballads collection. It seems a far cry from the 1957 and 1958 sessions with Red Garland, and the work of an almost impossibly different man.

This set, part of which was recorded live in New York during 1961, and the remainder in the studio on other occasions, is largely experimental and ob­sessed. It is not a comfortable experience to listen to any musician producing work as stark as this – one appropriate word would be “comfortless”. It has much in common, so far as feeling is concerned, with the last local issue of Sonny Rollins (Our Man In Jazz SF 7546), although it would be idle to suppose or to sug­gest that these two musicians are to any degree copying one another.

The bulk of the record – about three-quarters of each side – is occupied with live recordings made in November 1961 at the Village Vanguard. The first, India, is quite oriental in theme and execution, but while the brooding quality and the tone colours (aided by Dolphy’s bass clarinet) are Eastern, the intensity is Coltrane’s own. Impressions, on which Coltrane manipulates the tenor with his customary strangled and almost oboe-like tone, is a good deal fiercer and at a galloping tempo in which Elvin Jones’ forceful drumming is prominent.

Listeners who find serious Coltrane difficult or impossible to take will find little consolation in this record, as the other two tracks occupy little space in­deed. After The Rain is thoughtful and delightful, but here provides no more than a small sample of what John Colt­rane, and also McCoy Tyner – who plays lushly here – can do with ballads.

This record is only for those who take Coltrane seriously, and who in turn are prepared to give him the most serious and detailed consideration.

(b) India; (c) Up ’Gainst The Wall (18 min) – (a) Impressions; (c) After The Rain (20 min)
(a) John Coltrane (ten); McCoy Tyner (p); Jimmy Garrison (bs); Elvin Jones (d). 5/11/61.
(b) As above, add Eric Dolphy (bs-clt); Reggie Workman (bs); Coltrane plays sop. 5/11/61.
(c) As above, with Roy Haynes (d) in place of Jones.
(HMV CSD IS09 12inLP 32s.)