The question is not whether this album is good. It's freakin' John Coltrane, of course it's good (though my expectation of your agreement with that assumes that you appreciate him in free-jazz mode). It's a matter of setting up your expectations properly and prioritizing. So, although this is "the first official release struck from the original master tapes," as opposed to dingy-sounding bootlegs, you still have to be prepared for sub-par sound. This concert was recorded by the Temple radio station, apparently using one microphone up front, so the horns dominate -- though even they come and go.
And whoever was recording it didn't get every minute; he missed the very beginning, and with just one machine at his disposal, missed the end of "Leo" when he had to change tape reels. So allowances must be made, and if you don't already have all the other Coltrane albums on Impulse!, they are more of a priority.
That said, even though there is plenty of 'live' Trane available, this show distinguishes itself thanks to several factors. For one, bassist Sonny Johnson subs, very effectively, for Jimmy Garrison, whose work by this point with Trane I frankly find a bit wearing, so I welcome this change; Johnson's opening to "My Favorite Things" (his only solo this evening) is -- even at five-and-a-half minutes -- much less long-winded than Garrison's usually were.
Guests sit in with the quintet: alto saxophonists Steve Knoblauch and Arnold Joyner (the latter a former bandmate of Ali) acquit themselves well in their one-time appearances, adding a bit of variety; drummers Umar Ali (Rashied's brother), Robert Kenyatta, Charles Brown, and Algie (not Angie, as the credits mistakenly claim) DeWitt, part of a drum circle Trane had informally jammed with a few days before; unfortunately they are not well-recorded. Finally, Coltrane goes beyond saxophones and flute by adding a bit of vocalizing.
Of course, the focus is rightly on Trane and, secondarily but also rewardingly, fellow saxophonist/flutist Pharoah Sanders and pianist Alice Coltrane; all shine while in the spotlight. Rashied Ali is done no favors by the sonics, but his mastery still contributed mightily to the success of the evening. - Steve Holtje
Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based composer, poet, and editor who recently composed and recorded the soundtrack for director Enrico Cullen's film A Man Full of Days. He and Mr. Shipp also spoke for another feature published elsewhere.