JOHN COLTRANE — Giant Steps (review)

JOHN COLTRANE — Giant Steps album cover Album · 1959 · Hard Bop Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
MilesBeyond
Giant Steps was not the album that put John Coltrane on the map. No, that had already been accomplished some time ago, through his stint with Miles and his own seminal release, Blue Train. It was with this album, however, that Coltrane's status as jazz legend was to become indisputable - and with good reason. The album was a veritable tour de force, showing off different aspects of 'Trane's playing from the relentlessly virtuoistic (Giant Steps, Countdown) to the richly melodic (Naima, Syeeda's Song Flute), to the back-to-basics blues numbers (Cousin Mary, Mr. PC), and would yield several standards.

Giant Steps and Countdown both blaze along at unthinkable tempos (290 and 340 bpm, respectively), switching keys roughly every two beats. Throughout the vast and varied history of jazz there are few compositions that are more demanding upon the instrumentalist. To be able to play them at all is considered a significant rite of passage in any musician's life - to be able to play them like 'Trane does is a far off dream for all but a select few.

Lest anyone call this an exercise in souless virtuosity, however, Coltrane also delivers here one of the most breathtakingly beautiful ballads of all time - the haunting Naima. While Coltrane's playing is tender and ethereal, the real star of the show is Wynton Kelly, whose impeccably tasteful playing speaks to the very soul. Syeeda's Song Flute is another highlight, marrying a mild exoticness with a light, bouncy feel. Cousin Mary and Mr. PC both feature the band playing over blues progressions, the former at a mild swing and the latter at a blazingly fast tempo. Spiral doesn't really fit into any of the above categories, but is, as the name suggests, a chromatic descent. It's not the best cut on the album but enjoyable nonetheless.

No review of Giant Steps, however, would be complete without mentioning the band, and in particular the peerless bass work of Paul Chambers, which has to be heard to be believed.

In conclusion, if you don't own this album already, go out and get it!
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