JOHN COLTRANE — Giant Steps (review)

JOHN COLTRANE — Giant Steps album cover Album · 1959 · Hard Bop Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
I originally found this on CD at a yard sale about 2 or 3 summers ago for 2 dollars. It was a fantastic deal, and I'm glad I went for it. Since then I've had good feelings regarding this album. I've returned to it many times without disappointment, and can't help but regard this as truly one of the greatest hard bop albums of all time.

The lineup for most of the album consists of John Coltrane in a quartet with Tommy Flanagan on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Art Taylor on drums. Unless my information is incorrect, it is the first album that consists of entirely Coltrane compositions and is the first album of Coltrane's on the Atlantic Records record label. In 2004 it was selected as one of fifty recordings added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.

And for good reason! Not only is the improvisation on the musicians' parts spot on, but the album as a whole offers a broad palette of hard bop tunes. "Giant Steps" is one of Coltrane's most famous tunes, if not his greatest. It features unorthodox chord changes that give a nod to the post bop that was to come a few years later. "Cousin Mary" is a blues tune that the musicians burn through with ease. "Countdown" is a very fast tune that actually doesn't have piano accompaniment for half of it. This particular aspect would be a prominent characteristic in future post bop tunes, like "Orbits" off of the Davis album "Miles Smiles", for example.

The last four tunes I especially think are special. "Spiral" has a cool feel to it as it has a slower tempo and held out chromatic chord changes in the accompaniment, which give the solos a nice textured background. "Syeeda's Song Flute" has the cool feel of "Spiral" but with a sense of subtle intensity.

"Naima" is probably one of my favorite jazz ballads. I believe it to rival the cool blueness of "Blue In Green" from Miles's famous "Kind of Blue". Not only does the ballad have a sadder sound to it than the typical jazz ballad standard, but it also uses some of the strangest chord changes that I have ever seen used in a ballad. Somehow, they still manage to function together to create something blue and beautiful.

"Mr. P.C." is a fast minor blues tune, and I would like to quickly clear up any millennial misunderstandings regarding the tune name.

"P.C." stands for "Paul Chambers", the bassist, and has nothing to do with computers.

While listening to the alternate takes, I discovered something interesting regarding the alternate take of "Giant Steps". The musicians play it at the same tempo, but hold notes longer in a way that feels lazier and less tight than the original. I noticed that in Coltrane's solo, he would begin playing licks that easily resemble those of the original solo before quickly changing his mind and moving in a direction that led the lick someplace else or just simply stopped playing. Overall, it doesn't sound like Coltrane was as deeply engrossed as the original.

Overall I think this album is a masterpiece and is essential for any jazz fan to own. It was not a disappointment for myself, and will hopefully continue to be this way for jazz fans to come.

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