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JOHN COLTRANE - Giant Steps cover
4.60 | 73 ratings | 3 reviews
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Album · 1959

Filed under Hard Bop


A1 Giant Steps 4:43
A2 Cousin Mary 5:45
A3 Countdown 2:21
A4 Spiral 5:56
B1 Syeeda's Song Flute 7:00
B2 Naima 4:21
B3 Mr. P.C. 6:57

CD reissue bonus tracks:
8. Giant Steps (alternate take) (3:44)
9. Naima (alternate take) (4:31)
10. Cousin Mary (alternate take) (5:48)
11. Countdown (alternate take) (4:35)
12. Syeeda's Song Flute (alternate take) (7:04)

Total Time: 63:20


Bass – Paul Chambers
Drums – Art Taylor (tracks: A1 to B1, B3), Jimmy Cobb (tracks: B2)
Piano – Tommy Flanagan (tracks: A1 to B1, B3), Wynton Kelly (tracks: B2)
Tenor Saxophone – John Coltrane

About this release

Atlantic – SD 1311 (US)

- Recorded May 4 and 5, 1959: main take tracks A1–B1, B3; alternative take tracks 10–12, and additional alternative track 15.
John Coltrane – tenor saxophone, band leader
Paul Chambers – double bass
Tommy Flanagan – piano
Art Taylor – drums

- Recorded December 2, 1959: main take track B2
John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Paul Chambers – double bass
Jimmy Cobb – drums
Wynton Kelly – piano

- Recorded April 1 (March 26 according to Rhino liner notes) 1959: alternative tracks 8 and 9, and additional alternative tracks 13 and 14
John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Paul Chambers – double bass
Lex Humphries – drums
Cedar Walton – piano

Thanks to Abraxas, snobb for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

I must confess that, while I know just enough about jazz/rock fusion to be dangerous, when it comes to the great jazz masters that reigned from the beginnings of the genre through the 60s I am a true tenderfoot. So, in many respects and in most cases, I’m hearing many of the finest jazz recordings for the first time and reviewing them as fairly as possible while being constantly aware that I know very little about which I write. I do know that I can now more fully appreciate the joy that hi-fi enthusiasts must’ve experienced when someone like Miles Davis or Dave Brubeck bravely ventured into jazz realms that were previously uncharted. I had a friend growing up whose dad was very much into keeping his sound reproduction system state-of-the-art and, as I discover the magnificence of albums such as this one decades down the line, I now understand why he was so protective of his equipment (and why his biggest fear was that Joe and I would break his rules and somehow manage to screw things up while he was at work). I have fond memories of how new LPs from the likes of The Beatles, Yes and Return to Forever would give me goose bumps along with occasional out-of-body experiences and I figure that folks like Mr. Toldan got the same elation from hearing landmark records like “Giant Steps.”

This was John Coltrane’s fifth studio album yet it was the first to feature nothing but his own compositions exclusively. With it also being his debut on the Atlantic label, it no doubt marked a new chapter in his career in that he now had much more control over content and, therefore, a newly-realized freedom to push the envelope of the accepted norm. With it coming out in January of 1960 I’m sure it’s anything but a coincidence that it boldly announced that the brand new decade would be one of enormous innovation and changes in the status quo. As I intimated earlier, I’m still very much a newcomer to John Coltrane’s legendary magic but I can humbly attest to the fact that I am enraptured by his genius already. It’s just one of the many miracles of jazz music: It truly never ages even long after the artist has left this mortal coil and it’s often still as fresh today as the afternoon it was recorded.

The aptly named title song jump starts the album without apologies. Its swift pace doesn’t intimidate Coltrane at all as he flies overhead raining down showers of incredible runs on his tenor saxophone. Pianist Tommy Flanders is content to offer up some graceful chordings as if to give John a breather in order for him to deliver yet another spirited volley at the end but who could blame him for not trying to compete? The overall effect is stunning and it’s easy to see why this tune has become the benchmark for sax players that justifiably separates the pretenders from the wannabes. “Cousin Mary” is more of a traditional walking bass blues piece but, like a fine actor, you can’t take your eyes (or ears, in this instance) off of Coltrane for a second. His presence and charisma is riveting. Flanagan’s piano lead is excellent and bassman Paul Chambers turns in a fluid ride on his upright. “Countdown” opens with a brief drum solo from Art Taylor followed by a furious flurry of notes from Coltrane’s instrument. The word exhilarating doesn’t do it justice. It’s 2:21 of light-speed particles blitzing through your head like cosmic rays.

A shuffle beat provides the foundation for “Spiral” and it lends the number a lively, optimistic atmosphere. Of special note is the studio’s ambience the engineers wisely captured that makes the listener feel like they’re right there in the room with the band. Tommy’s piano work is outstanding and it’s the most melodic tune on the album. Playful accents grant “Syeeda’s Song Flute” a welcome touch of mirth but one is struck by John’s unbelievable command of his saxophone. Once again, Flanagan’s keyboard proves to be the perfect counterbalance to JC’s overwhelming brilliance. A breathtaking, gorgeous aura surrounds the serene piece Coltrane wrote for his wife, “Naima,” that the English language fails to describe. Here Wynton Kelly sits at the piano bench and Jimmy Cobb lays down drums so delicate that you must strain to hear him. It’s almost uncanny how unified and in harmony the musicians are in their collective performance and I can only urge you to hear it for yourself. “Mr. P.C.” is the original LP closer and John chose to do so atop an energized tempo that allows him to gallantly lead the way out. Tommy’s piano ride flows like a swollen river and Art’s drum fills are stupendously novel and entertaining.

The album I have contains four additional cuts consisting of alternate takes. On “Giant Steps” and “Naima” Cedar Walton plays piano and Lex Humphries provides the drum tracks. They are both quite adequate at what they do and it’s nice to hear their interpretations and contributions. “Cousin Mary” and “Countdown” sound like enthusiastic warm-ups to the “keepers” but they ain’t too shabby, neither. These fellas were good every day, all the time.

I hope that younger lovers of music will not overlook the vast catalog of spectacular performances that have been preserved for all time to come just because their proponents grew up and lived in the 30s, 40s and 50s. The music they made has no expiration date on the label and you’ll find a literal smorgasbord of aural art to indulge in as you explore the creations of jazz titans like JC. It’s like finally getting around to reading Dostoyevsky and realizing that his revered talent wasn’t just hype. I, for one, look forward to hearing more from the library of sounds left behind by Mr. Coltrane. If they’re anything approaching “Giant Steps” I can’t wait to experience what my brain will next attempt to absorb.
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!

Members reviews

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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