John Coltrane – Out Of This World
(Proper Note. PROPERBOX 181. 4 CD Set. Review by Nicolas Pillai)
By focusing only on the years 1960-1962, this elegant collection presents John Coltrane as a developing musician, drawing influence from his collaborators in a manner often neglected in grand narratives of his genius. Appropriately enough, then, the first disc kicks off with a lucid Miles solo on So What, a fourteen-minute 1960 version for a live audience in Stockholm. This sets the tone for a judicious balance of live and studio cuts in this collection, comprising thirty-three tracks across four discs, titled Exotica, Blues Minor, Chasin’ the Trane and Body and Soul.
The arrangement is roughly chronological, which enables the listener to chart Coltrane’s evolution over a busy two years. While listening to this music, I found myself reading and re-reading Simon Spillett’s comprehensive liner notes. These are not simply anecdotal or contextual. Spillett presents a compelling and meticulously researched argument regarding the importance of the 1960-1962 period in Coltrane’s life. Spillett dismantles the legend, but not the man, permitting us greater insight into the composition and achievement of Coltrane. This is a welcome trend, to be found elsewhere in Ben Ratliff’s recent Coltrane: The Story of a Sound.
Disc One: Exotica hinges on Spillett’s assertion that Coltrane needed a ‘more interactive kind of drumming’ than Billy Higgins could provide. This was found in Elvin Jones and amply demonstrated on albums Coltrane Jazz, My Favorite Things, Coltrane Plays the Blues and Coltrane’s Sound. Very usefully, Spillett notes Coltrane’s canny marketing sense and marketable persona, his original compositions combining traditional blues with ‘pseudo-ethnic ostinato bass patterns’ and ‘keys hitherto unfriendly for jazz improvising’. With the shift from Atlantic Records to Impulse and the good sales for Africa/Brass, Coltrane had become ‘the ultimate rarity – a saleable avant-gardist’.
Discs Three and Four further chart Coltrane’s turn toward experimentation but remind us of the concurrent desire to duplicate the success of My Favorite Things’ ‘commercial impact’ in Greensleeves and The Inchworm. Together, the discs evince the creativity of Coltrane’s collaborators, not just Jones but also Jimmy Garrison, McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman and Eric Dolphy. For the Coltrane aficionado, this reminder is welcome; for the Coltrane neophyte, this collection is essential in depicting a period Ratliff has termed ‘a musician finding his own greatest resonance, hitting his spot’.