John Coltrane: One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note (Impulse!/Verve/Universal)

coltrane.jpg This captures Coltrane’s classic quartet with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones at its 1965 peak (a few months before Trane began adding other players; by the time he went into the studio in 1966, Tyner had been replaced by Alice Coltrane) in radio broadcasts from a New York club on March 26 and May 7. Crescent and A Love Supreme had been made the previous year and The John Coltrane Quartet Plays... was being recorded contemporaneously.
Coltrane had refined his modal playing to the point where he’s playing with absolute assurance, pushing into the highest levels of imaginative expression that the style could support; soon he went further and crossed the line into free jazz. His son, Ravi, found these tapes in a closet in 1991, and while technically speaking it’s understandable why they weren’t released immediately – there’s distortion at peaks, the piano sounds tinny, there are dropouts, and the second piece in each set cuts off unfinished when the broadcast ends – from a purely musical point of view this is sheer bliss, especially the title track.

There are two other available versions of “One Down, One Up”: a studio version with Roy Haynes on drums, and a Newport concert version with Jones back. Neither equals in power and imagination the legendary, much-bootlegged performance of “One Down, One Up” heard here. It lasts 27:40 and aside from the head is one long, masterful tenor sax solo. At 10:51, Tyner stops playing; at 13:14, Garrison also steps aside. Jones is more than capable of spurring on the leader with unceasingly emphatic polyrhythms, while Coltrane’s continuously varying timbres make it all much more than an etude. This is possibly the greatest solo of its type ever recorded. By the time the band reenters 13-1/2 minutes later at 26:45, cued by Trane’s return to the seven-note theme, we’ve been taken on a kaleidoscopic journey. After that, “Afro Blue,” for all its intensity, comes as a relief by contrast, and also finally gives Tyner a chance to solo. Trane’s solo, on soprano sax, is spoken over by the announcer and then cut off, alas: These tapes come from the radio side and document only the broadcasts (including introductions and announcements – but don’t worry too much, it’s commercial-free), not the complete musical activities at the club.

“Song of Praise” had first been recorded in April 1964 during the initial session for Crescent, but that much shorter attempt wasn’t released until 1999 on the box set The Classic Quartet: Complete Impulse! Studio Recordings. The studio version issued at the time was laid down ten days after this broadcast and was vastly better. This 19-1/2 minute version trumps both anyway (though certainly not sonically), giving both Tyner and then Trane extensive solo time to explore its modal changes. “My Favorite Things” is of course familiar in many versions (between studio and concert recordings, there are at least 22 preserved performances, the most of any piece in his repertoire as a leader); it was Coltrane’s most popular recording and an adaptable piece that served him well for many years in changing contexts. This one starts inauspiciously with a reed squeak (Coltrane’s soprano sax seems a bit balky at other times as well) but quickly becomes interesting as Tyner’s chording proves more intricate and surprising than earlier efforts. Coltrane’s first solo has an amiable, relaxed feel; Tyner ups the ante in his solo, and the leader’s second solo is much more fervent and active – and then in comes the announcer and the music is faded down and then cut off. Oh well, we take what we can get.

Now, 40 years after these concerts took place, they finally are officially released on a reasonably priced two-CD set, and the sonic flaws shouldn’t deter anyone from getting this astounding set. There are also March 19 and April 2, 1965 Half Note broadcasts that have been bootlegged (4/2 only partially); here’s hoping Ravi finds those in a closet as well. - Steve Holtje

John Coltrane - One Down, One Up - Live at the Half Note

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Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based former editor of Creem Magazine and CDNow.com, editor of the acclaimed MusicHound Jazz: The Essential Album Guide, and contributor to The Big Takeover, Early Music America, and many other hip periodicals. He is a buyer at Sound Fix, a hot new record store in Williamsburg.

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