JOHN COLTRANE — Olé Coltrane (review)

JOHN COLTRANE — Olé Coltrane album cover Album · 1961 · Hard Bop Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
dreadpirateroberts
Squeezing the album in around changing recording commitments as he left Atlantic for Impulse! John Coltrane and his quintet recorded one of their most satisfying modal records late in the spring of 1961.

Sharing a core line-up with ‘Africa/Brass’ the three pieces comprising the original pressing of ‘Ole Coltrane’ provide just thirty five or so minutes of magic from John and co, though it's certainly worthwhile - each minute is memorable for the right reasons.

Joined by guests (Hubbard on trumpet and Art Davis on bass) an already impressive quintet launch into the semi-meditative title track, a long 3/4 jam reminiscent of ‘My Favourite Things' but which was based on a Spanish folk song known as 'El Vito.' While Tyner’s piano and Coltrane’s soprano phrasing is most obviously similar, Coltrane himself suggested that the 3/4 timing was something of a "straight jacket" in terms of soloing. Dolphy’s brief flute part and Hubbard’s usual fine work stand out as much as Coltrane’s hypnotic saxophone, where he often plays clear lines and variations of the theme. (Freddie Hubbard also guests on ‘Arica/Brass’ and would be back for Coltrane’s free-jazz monster, ‘Ascension’ a few years later.)

Of the second side, ‘Dahomey Dance’ is more ‘straight ahead’ hard bop but with perhaps just a little more of a laid back feel, with Jones’ swinging beat keeping things on track. Closing with McCoy Tyner’s soothing ‘Aisha,’ a showpiece for the pianist as both player and composer, the song casts its own soft spell, one that rivals the opener for impact. Once again Freddie Hubbard makes a soulful impression and it’s the perfect ending to what fast became my second favourite Coltrane release upon purchase.

This is an essential Coltrane record, almost a parting gift to Atlantic, and an enduring one at that. Modal jazz was reasonably young at this point in Jazz history (Davis’ landmark composition ‘Milestones’ just three years old and ‘Kind of Blue’ only two) and Coltrane would keep exploring and adding to those ideas, but with ‘Ole’ we’re privy to some of his first steps (along with last year’s ‘Coltrane Jazz’) and they’re exciting steps too, and not just because they would eventually lead to ‘A Love Supreme.’

*The CD Reissue adds ballad ‘To Her Ladyship’ to the CD and it’s a worthy addition, more traditional sounding than Tyner’s ‘Aisha’ but still graced with fine performances.
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