29th Jul2016

Theo Croker ‘Escape Velocity’ (Okeh) 5/5

by ukvibe

theo-crokerTheo Croker is a Florida born trumpet player, one time student of Gary Bartz, Donald Byrd and Marcus Belgrave, and is mentored by Dee Dee Bridgewater. And he is also the grandson of Cab Calloway trumpeter, Doc Cheatham. So the inevitable was bound to happen. Unknown to myself until recently, Theo has just released his new album, Escape Velocity, on the Sony owned Okeh record label, via DDB Productions, Dee Dee Bridgewater’s management and production company.
Theo has had quite an interesting career for someone still so young, which has included a seven-year stint working in Shanghai, China after graduation from university, playing in various jazz venues across the city. And it was in China where he was to meet his mentor and current boss Dee Dee Bridgewater, who convinced Theo to branch out on his own, especially writing new material and to embrace his own musical influences within compositions.
Escape Velocity is actually his fourth release, but probably his most accessible record. Previous albums have utilised the services of many established players such as Stefon Harris, Roy Hargrove and Karriem Riggins, but this album includes his own touring band DVRK FUNK, who are also Dee Dee Bridgewater’s live group, which includes Michael King on keyboards including piano, Hammond and Rhodes, Eric Wheeler on bass and drummer Kassa Overall. Additionally, Irwin Hall is on alto, bass clarinet and flute duties and Antony Ware is on baritone sax, and finally, Femi Temowo joins Ben Eunson to add some vibrant guitar touches.

Musically, this is a very fresh album that includes some modern drum programming and audio sampling, but this is still very much an outright jazz album – just a very contemporary one. Croker may use a wah-wah effect at times on his trumpet, but his playing is virtuosic and natural, displaying his obvious hard bop background, but also Theo’s other influences from afro beat, funk and Latin.

Many of the album 15 tracks are actually quite short, with nine of the set being under four minutes in length – so never a dull moment. But being critical, maybe longer arrangements would provide the band with more time to explore some of the themes examined here, but desiring more is always better than the opposite, and some of the shorter pieces do blend into each other to form a fluid, evolving album.

Personal highlights include the Fela Kuti meets J Dilla mishmash of ‘It’s Gonna Be Alright’, featuring chant-like vocals from the band, the slightly boogie-ish ‘Real Episode’ and the infectious ‘Transcend’, with its excellent use of rhythm. Dee Dee Bridgewater’s influence is evident with the fantastic vocal version of ‘Love from the Sun’. Dee Dee has had a long history with the song, which she recorded with Norman Connors on his 1974 album of the same name, but also on the more popular, upbeat and funky Roy Ayers version (from Virgo Red), but it’s also on Dee Dee’s legendary Japanese ‘Afro Blue’ album. Great mentoring, as this is probably the obvious DJ cut here.

And although it isn’t documented, I think the album is produced by Theo and the band, and here, they have to be commended. Sonically the album is strong, the song arrangements support the overall holistic nature of the set and the playing is lively, dynamic and relevant to each track. Again, this is another example of excellent young Jazz musicians making great new jazz music.

I can’t really find anything negative about say about the album, except that I hope there’s a vinyl release, as it’s currently only on CD and in digital formats.

Damian Wilkes

28th Jul2016

Kandace Springs ‘Soul Eyes’ CD/DIG (Blue Note) 3/5

by ukvibe

kandace-springsBefore I get into the body of this review a few words about Blue Note in the 21st century. For many this iconic label is synonymous with hard bop and therefore principally defined by its success in the ‘50s and ‘60s. As a result, the pragmatic business strategy of recent label Presidents Bruce Lundvall and Don Was, which mixes the old with the new, has not always been well received in Jazz circles, with claims that the Blue Note’s output has become watered down by new artists who seem to have little connection to the music perceived to remain at the label’s heart. However commercial success lies in attracting a broad spectrum of tastes which in turn can benefit the entire label. For present day Blue Note this means a roster of talents as diverse as Norah Jones, Annie Lennox, Gregory Porter, Charles Lloyd, Logan Richardson and GoGo Penguin. Whatever the merits of these particular arguments, for me it is important when reviewing their music to make a distinction between the legacy of the label, which is undoubtedly important, and the degree to which that should influence current or future releases.
All of which brings us to Kandace Springs’ debut album, “Soul Eyes”. Although the music has threads of jazz and soul woven into it, it is essentially an adult-orientated pop confection. It is apparent from the coverage surrounding the release that it was important to involve those who have a track record of success making similar albums, presumably on the grounds that success breeds success. The producer, Larry Klein, has worked with the likes of Joni Mitchell, Lizz Wright, Herbie Hancock and Melody Gardot and the project was overseen by Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers who are best known for their work as songwriters and producers for the likes of Rihanna and Christina Aguilera (as well as running SRP Music Group, who Springs is signed to).

For me the results are mixed with more misfires than hits, which left me wondering just exactly what musical identity Springs is seeking. The opening track, “Talk to Me”, is the kind of gentle pop ballad that her label mate Norah Jones is renowned for. This formula is used again and again making it difficult to discount the notion that Blue Note are grooming the next Norah Jones. Whether it’s “Neither Old Nor Young” or the straight up balladry of “Place to Hide” or “Fall Guy”, these songs have a certain smart sophistication to them but lack any fire in the belly. Put another way they are the kind of songs that are perfect for creating a relaxed atmosphere whilst you drink your double shot, single origin, skinny latte in your local coffee shop or advertising the latest must-have product.

All of which is unfortunate because Springs’ vocals have an easy, pleasantly cool and expressively soulful tone to them. For me her delivery works best on mid-tempo numbers like “Thought It Would Be Easier” and “Novocaine Heart”. “Thought..” has a wonderfully relaxed feel to it; southern soul stylings drenched with sweet organ bursts from Pete Kuzma and a great hook in the title. “Novocaine….” is the more energetic of the two with a “Mercy Mercy Me” vibe over a catchy baseline.

Of course being with Blue Note has distinct advantages when you want to increase the jazz quotient. There are three Jazzier ballads – the smoky, late night blues of the title track, a vocal cover of the Mal Waldron classic, and “Too Good Too Last” co-written by Springs, both featuring Terence Blanchard on trumpet. The cream of the crop is “Rain Falling”, a song written by Springs in her teens. It’s a confident, assured performance and rounds off the album on a high.

As debuts go there are some signs of hope within a release that has unfortunately become muddled by covering a number of different bases. It will be interesting to see what direction subsequent releases take.

Andy Hazell

27th Jul2016

Nikki Yeoh ‘Solo Gemini’ (Infinitum) 4/5

by ukvibe

nikki-yeohA long time in the making, this solo debut by relative London jazz scene veteran Nikki Yeoh combines contemporary classical and esoteric jazz influences and yet the pianist’s own voice still comes shining through. Recorded during 2014 at the artist in residence location of Aldeburgh that was originally created by composer and pianist Benjamin Britten, the music is at its most lyrical on pieces such as ‘Dance of the two bears’ where the two-handed and dazzling use of the breadth of the keyboard operates over a drone-like undercurrent. Yeoh has considerable experience working for other musicians and as early as the 1990s was working in Courtney Pine’s band. Equally impressive in her CV portfolio are compositions written for other pianists, most notably Joanna McGregor, and the combining classical and jazz rhythms, a fusion of genres that was first pioneered by the likes of John Lewis and Gunter Schuller in the 1950s and referred to as ‘Third Stream’. This cross-pollination is alluded to on the question and answer titled, ‘What kind? This kind’. Collectively, these cumulative experiences have served her well and exposure to the music of Brazilian iconoclast, Hermeto Pascual, when she was just eighteen resulted in her writing the piece, ‘Mutual serenade’, that is included here and is something of a mood-inducing number that is contemplative in nature. More contemporary composer influences surface elsewhere as on ‘Six as I’, which hints strongly at the work of John Cage while the album title track betrays an interest in and respect for the acoustic piano of Herbie Hancock. World roots flavours have lingered long in Yeoh’s explorations of music and this includes North Indian music that compelled Yeoh to compose ‘The healer’, with vocals from Shubha Mudgal. A worthwhile debut outing, then, and perhaps a future project might include fusing Cuban rhythms that are close to Yeoh’s heart after visiting the island and participating in an intercambio cultural, or cultural exchange with the Conjunto Folklorico Nacional de Cuba. A recent live performance at the Vortex in London in mid-June showcased the album in a live context.

Tim Stenhouse

26th Jul2016

Cannonball Adderley ‘Music You All’ (Real Gone/Dusty Groove) 4/5

by ukvibe

cannonball-adderleyThe late 1960s and early 1970s period in Cannonball Adderley’s illustrious career, when he was part of the major label roster on Capitol records, is currently the subject of a major re-investigation, and this latest re-issue is a particularly fine example of how Cannonball’s band sounded both soulful and spiritual in a live context. Dating from 1971, the line-up from a live evening performance at the legendary Troubadour club in Los Angeles where at the time the likes of Carole King and James Taylor would ply their trade is outstanding and includes: a young George Duke in fine form on fender rhodes, bassist Walter Booker, drummer Roy McCurdy augmented by Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira (fresh from duties with Miles’ electric band), guest tenorist Ernie Watts, and last, but by no means least brother Nat Adderley on cornet. The leader himself alternates between alto and soprano saxophones. Long-term favourite numbers are revisited in elongated form, with the groove-laden ‘Walk Tall’ the centrepiece and something of a soul-jam atmosphere with Duke departing on a lengthy solo and fitting in wah-wah sound effects. The band collectively really stretch out on the opener, the twelve-minute extended work out of, ‘The Brakes’, with brother Nat sounding inspired by Miles from the ‘Sketches of Spain’ period. A more intimate kind of groove is created on ‘Capricorn’, a piece that was part of a studio project devoted to the Zodiac signs and available on a separate studio album.

Lengthy new inner sleeve notes from music journalist Bill Kopp place this recording in a wider context and it ties in with a previously re-issued 2LP/2CD re-issue, ‘The Black Messiah’, that surfaced from the same period and is an indispensable companion to the current re-issue. In 1976, the year after Cannonball Adderley’s premature and untimely death, producer David Axelrod went back into the studios and compiled recordings that did not originally feature on ‘Black Messiah’ and these were subsequently released that same year. These are no mere additions or outtakes, but rather serve to provide us with a more comprehensive vision of Cannonball Adderley’s prodigious output, and one thing is for sure: both the leader and band were in superb form and this latest re-issue demonstrates why.

Tim Stenhouse

25th Jul2016

Carla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow ‘Andando el Tiempo’ (ECM) 4/5

by ukvibe

bley-sheppard-swallowIt is astonishing to think that in early May, pianist and composer Carla Bley celebrated her eightieth birthday. She has been part of the jazz landscape since the 1960s and has recorded with ECM and its off shoot labels for some forty years and counting. However, the current trio has been in existence for twenty years and the new recording is the follow-up to ‘Trio’ from 2013. As with its predecessor, there is a glorious feeling of space, arguably a defining characteristic that spans ECM recordings in general, and yet this small group environment marks a departure in Carla Bley’s general body of work that has focused on larger ensembles, with ‘Escalator over the hill’ from 1971, being a landmark album for both leader and label, and one that brought together disparate elements ranging from US big band to European serialism influences. Indeed, it both took on board the electric period of Miles Davis and incorporated rock and blues influences with guest appearances from Traffic’s Chris Wood and Manfred Mann’s Paul Jones among others. The main body of the music on offer on the new album is neatly divided up into a three-part suite that represents the varying stages of a fictional individual recovering from addiction with titles intriguingly in Spanish. Despite the heavy nature of the subject matter, the music itself is actually more optimistic in tone than one might expect. Part two in particular, ‘Potación de Gueya’, recounts in instrumental form the ongoing sorrow of everyone affected by the addiction and features some stunning sweet-sounding soprano saxophone from Andy Sheppard who excels throughout the album. On this most engaging of pieces, Bley plays a largely supportive role. Steve Swallow is that most supportive of bassists, but takes a well deserved solo intro riff to ‘Camino al volver’, the third and final part of the suite, where there is fine interplay between bass and piano before Sheppard tentatively enters on saxophone. The simplest of riffs creates the catchiest of melodies and a hallmark of this recording, as with the previous album, is the generosity of spirit between the trio members. Where the new and previous album depart, however, is that ‘Trio’ revisited older pieces in a new and more intimate setting whereas the latest recording features new and original compositions. A recent date at Ronnie Scott’s in mid-July will be followed up by a longer European tour, this following on in turn from an initial concert in New York. Well worth catching this trio in action if you can. A live album surely beckons at some point.

Tim Stenhouse

24th Jul2016

Ronald Snijders ‘The Nelson and Djosa Sessions’ LP/CD/DIG (V2 Benelux) 2/5

by ukvibe

ronald-snijdersSome of you may be aware of earlier albums by Ronald Snijders, such as his debut, “Natural Sources”, or the follow-up, “A Safe Return”, which he released in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. You are forgiven if they passed you by though; these were privately pressed and would not have been issued in great quantities or to a great deal of acclaim. Over time these early albums have become quite collectable. Born in Surinam, Snijders moved to the Netherlands to study in 1970, before following a career as a musician. Primarily a flautist, but able to turn his hand to other instruments as well, Snijders’ music is influenced by his homeland, and in particular Kaseko, a form of Afro-Surinamese popular music, which in itself draws upon multiple influences, including traditional drum ensembles, call and response, Jazz, Caribbean and Brazilian and Latin music, as well as jazz and funk.
Inspired by his story and the music from these early albums, Dutch producers Nelson and Djosa set about reinvigorating Snijders’ music by introducing him to a number of guest musicians and recording the resulting collaborations. The guests are a fairly diverse bunch including Ed Motta, Orlando Julius, The Heliocentrics, Dwight Trible, Bassekou Kouyate, trumpeter Avishai Cohen and Colombian harpist Edmar Castañeda.

On the face of it there are some enticing elements to this long player, a chance to revisit some ‘70s funk fusion with an eclectic and talented group of collaborators on board. But, and you probably knew a but was coming, it all seems to fall a bit flat. Whilst many of the tracks are pleasant enough none of them have me reaching for the repeat button. The collaborative process sees Snijders meeting in the middle with his guests, performing his compositions whilst introducing their style and direction. This makes for a varied selection with an emphasis on easy on the ear, light, funky grooves, infused with African, Brazilian or Latin rhythms.

Dwight Trible and drummer Jamire William’s pair of tunes retain a retro vibe to them, reminding me a bit of Acid Jazz groups like The Solsonics or Groove Collective. The original of “Brazilian Blue”, which featured Snijders on flute and guitar, has an airy, bossa feel to it. Here it features Mamao from Azymuth, doing what he does best, creating relaxed, warm, gently seductive melodies. I think the original just about edges it for me, but it’s a close run thing.

Elsewhere the new arrangements do not quite work for me. Ed Motta’s contribution, “Easy Man”, is below par and “Kasekojazz” featuring Avishai Cohen is little better. The original albums had a charm and creative spark to them that isn’t reproduced here, nor is the introduction of new musicians and styles enough to capture some of that spirit.

Overall, not so much a disappointing album, but one I’m left without strong feelings about one way or the other.

Andy Hazell

23rd Jul2016

Kit Downes and Tom Challenger ‘Vyamanikal’ (Slip) 4/5

by ukvibe

kit-downes-tom-challenger“Vyamanikal” is the Slip debut of organist Kit Downes and tenor saxophonist Tom Challenger. Recorded in five Suffolk churches during 2015, the duo explore the native nuances of the instruments, combining an ethereal contemplative approach with the unique atmosphere of their surroundings. Named after the ancient Sanskrit term for flying machines: Vaimanika Shastra- this album is the pair’s follow up to 2012’s “Wedding Music”. Whereas their first release appeared to be focussed on melody, this recording is most definitely more left-field, celebrating music-making at its most meditative and transient. It’s impossible to listen to this music without visualising the surroundings in which it was performed and recorded. The natural ambience and acoustics created within the churches enables Downes and Challenger to use the spaces they work in to sketch intimate improvisations around a theme or musical thought, thereby capturing a perfect balance between the three main ingredients; the room, the instrument, and the performer. The results are often spellbinding, with Downes teasing seemingly ancient or scarcely heard sounds from the organs, and Challenger zoning in on the feel and mood of the sound, creating pastoral and subtly innovative soundscapes that embellish and further open up the textural heart of the music being created.

The music on “Vyamanikal” takes on an almost spiritual reverence. On the opening two numbers, “Apicha” and Bdhak”, it’s as if the musicians are feeling their way in, taking on board the depth, history and possible meaning of where they are and what they are doing there. The sounds are minimal, with low organ drones, swirling pumps and dissonant noises being coaxed from every sinew of the instrument. Reflective in nature, the listener can hear bird-song in the distance and at times it is difficult to identify which sound is coming from which instrument. Yet all of this adds to the coherent and rewarding experience one gets from simply listening with an open mind, allowing the colours and textures of the music to flow effortlessly through the body, shimmering, glowing and constantly changing. There is little pattern or form here, it just is what it is. A somewhat darker mood ensues with “Sa”, with deeper, more powerful sounds being coerced out of the organ by Downes. Challenger responds accordingly with the gift of intuitive thought emanating a spacial awareness as his sax melds time and space with sound. These themes of thoughtful interaction continue on “Vistri” and “Jyotir”, the latter benefitting from some wonderful sustain from the organ as Challenger’s sax deftly skips a quiet, mesmeric dance of its own. “Maar-ikar” heralds the return of bird-song, thoughtfully mixed into the living, breathing universe of the internal mechanisms and workings of the organ itself. The duo sign off with “Nya-aya”, which once again focusses the mind on the subtleties of sound, thought-provoking and mesmeric in its own splendid acoustic setting, almost ambivalently solemn, yet with an undercurrent of sincerity and an elusive, profound meaning.

Downes and Challenger take their innovative approach to making music to Manchester on Thursday 28th July 2016. As part of Manchester Jazz Festival, they will performing live at St. Ann’s Church. I truly wish I could be there, as I would imagine hearing their music performed in such a setting will be a beautiful thing to behold.

Mike Gates

22nd Jul2016

Matt Lavelle’s 12 Houses ‘Solidarity’ (Unseen Rain) 5/5

by ukvibe

matt-lavelles-12-housesOn first glance of the press release of this album, I groaned at some irritating art-ese (“harmolodious” being particularly virulent) and didn’t look forward to the listen. As is often the case, however, press releases can be as elegantly written as a Mills and Boon.
Matt Lavelle’s group on 12 Houses is a disparate bunch. Lavelle on cornet accompanied by baritone and alto sax, bassoon, piano, banjo, ute, mandola, vibraphone, bass clarinet, violin, bells, drums, cello and voice. Not a standard line-up, by any means, and it pays off. The six tracks are a mixture of landscapes and character pieces, to me at least. The simplest I could signpost it to is somewhere between Górecki and Polar Bear, at moments classical and at others frenetic improvisation. Chamber jazz-core? No, that feels restricted. I think it best that I describe each track in turn, to emphasise the vignette feel of this record.
The opener, Solidarity, feels like an anthem for a secret Dadaist society gone to ruin. A strong lamenting march for a head leads to an elongated sax led meltdown to a grinding cello finish and a return to the main motif. A lone member of the society sifting through minutes of meetings, broken bottles and dust hanging in the air.

Second, Brooklyn Mountain, is a frenzied rush about New York with all the cars and concretia, bars and bustle. This one barely lets up; flashes of nights in venues, traffic and human movement. Very vivid, and just about the right length.

Third is Knee Braces. An odd violin heavy track that could pass as a bluesy nocturne, moving from arpeggios to sinister screeching. The vibraphone and voice give this a chilling melancholy, like a drunk skeleton or a neglected child in a dreary house.

Fourth is Cheery Swing, offering some drum bending and searching cornet improvisation, moving into a more structured and standard free-jazz second half. It doesn’t really feel that cheery, more like a tunnel of love ride operated by Miles Davis (drunk) and Earl Scruggs (the banjo solo is an album high-point for me).

Fifth is a charming bassoon piece called Moonflower Interlude. This is a track that swerves between the wistful, woody tone to the upper ranges of the instrument. Many characters could be painted to this solo.

Finally, Faith is a largely piano-centric piece with a fantastic central motif. At first, the chord sequence is almost as sickly as any Ivor Novello, but at the halfway mark a spine of hand claps drag it into an ecstatic, celebratory swing. A wonderful ending.

This is what I saw when I listened; landscapes and scenes and characters. This record will inevitably infuriate those who are not fond of “twiddle” (for want of a better word), but I feel this is a varied and very interesting blend of styles, themes and tonal scenarios. It doesn’t outstay its welcome either. 12 Houses is definitely worth a punt if you enjoy freer jazz, unusual pairings and evocative playing.

Thomas G.J. Sharpe

21st Jul2016

Renaud ‘Renaud’ (Parlophone/Warner France) 4/5

by ukvibe

renaudFrench music has been blessed with at least two major exponents of folk-derived music who have been inspired in part by the songbook and outlook of Bob Dylan, even if subsequently they have proceeded to chart their own distinctive and highly individualistic career paths rather than being a mere clone of the 1960s icon.
One of these is Maxime Le Forestier, who travelled to the United States in the post-Woodstock era, and recorded the early 1970s anthem, ‘San Francisco’, that launched his career. The other, younger and emerging figure some five or so years later, is Renaud [Séchan] and it is the latter who is the primary focus of this album review. Renaud has never been shy of addressing deeper social issues and first came to prominence in the late 1970s with a song devoted to life on the French equivalent of a council estate, but in the suburbs, entitled, ‘Dans mon H.L.M’ and incorporated inverted slang on ‘Laisse-béton’ well before any French rappers came onto the scene. He achieved more mainstream success in the mid-1980s with ‘Morgane de toi’ before a lengthy absence while he struggled with a long-term alcohol addiction

This new album marks his first in six years, but here is back in form, fully lucid, and in both reflective and melodic mood throughout and the listener is very much the beneficiary. In his 2002 album ‘Boucan D’enfer’ Renaud covered similar social ground with the hit single, ‘Manhattan-Kaboul’. that made a direct parallel between the daily lives of inhabitants on the streets of these two cities, and one would do well to reflect on what humanity has in common rather than what appears on the surface at first sight to divide us. With most recent events in Nice still fresh in the memory, a key song on the new project is ‘Hype Cacher’ that without any great fanfare or grandiose statement, quite simply, but expertly in verse, recounts the events at a Paris supermarket in November 2015 and ends with,

I want to dedicate this poem to them
To tell them that they are dear to us
And that we will never forget them

In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, a second song, ‘J’ai embrassé un flic’ (‘I embraced a cop’) recounts the mobilisation of ordinary French citizens to protest peacefully against the violence committed in the name of a religion that rejects such action. Renaud is known for his left of centre stance and that makes his act of hugging a member of the police force all the more poignant.

For those wishing to explore in greater depth the historical tradition of the French chanson, Renaud is a direct descendent of that tradition, particularly influenced by Brassens, but even, perhaps, by Charles Trenet, who was capable of composing a masterpiece such as ‘Douce France’ during wartime conditions and is strongly recommended to neophytes. His song,’ Boom’ was used as the introductory music to the Euro football tournament by ITV. The song ‘Les mots’ finds renaud in more philosophical mood and emphasizes the sheer joy of writing and making words come to life that is his trademark. His style has changed little and on ‘Petit bonhomme’, the accompaniment of accordion and acoustic guitar (Renaud invariably performs on stage with a guitar) has given his music a timeless quality that his fans admire.

To non-French speakers, the chanson tradition may seem impenetrable, but it can be at once melodic and message-laden and worth making that extra special effort to investigate further. Renaud is an integral part of that tradition and it comes as little surprise that at a time of great anguish and uncertainty, Renaud, while never promising any easy solutions, continues on his own path as a wordsmith of distinction. Even the gravel-inflected voice cannot take that quality away from him. A splendid return to form. Those wishing to intensify their interest in Renaud would be well served investigating the 2002 album, ‘Boucan d’Enfer’ and for an overview of the first decade, ‘Le meilleur de 75-85’ (Polydor France, 2009).

Tim Stenhouse

20th Jul2016

John Coltrane ‘The Atlantic Years in Mono’ 7LP/6CD Box sets (separate) (Atlantic/Rhino) 5/5

by ukvibe

john-coltrane-monoTo tie in with what was last weekend the forty-ninth anniversary of the death of John Coltrane on 17 July 1967, this new box set, available in either vinyl of CD format, sheds further light on the Atlantic period from a monaural perspective. In a digital driven world, some might question the wisdom of a format that precedes even stereo, but it was the case in the 1950s that the original jazz recordings (and this extends to pop/rock artists – witness the Bob Dylan box set of his mono recordings for Columbia) came out in separate mono and stereo formats, and Blue Note devotees for one invariably argue the merits of the mono over the stereo sound. Whatever your sound preferences, and having a specialist vinyl turntable will certainly aid the listener in debating the relative merits, this retrospective allows us to re-examine a critical period in John Coltrane’s career. It marks a decisive break with the previous Miles Davis quintet recordings on Prestige, or the former’s sideman duties elsewhere. What emerges from the Atlantic albums as a whole is Coltrane the leader and composer with a distinctive vision that would mark an imprint on the history and evolution of modern jazz.

The CD set divides up the original albums and adds a sixth CD with all the bonus tracks that came out on the original CD re-issues. Informative inner booklet notes by renowned jazz writer Ashley Kahn amount to a de facto historiography of the Atlantic record label and situate Coltrane’s contribution in a wider context. By 1955, Atlantic had established itself as a label that specialised in blues and rhythm and blues music and secured major success with Ray Charles, Bug Joe Turner and La Vern Baker. It had already entered into the jazz field via traditional New Orleans and jazz-related musicians in cabaret such as Bobby Short. However, the Ertegun brothers, Ahmet and Nesuhi, were looking for an inroad into modern jazz and found comfort in the recordings of Lennie Tristano and Jimmy Giuffre, plus the west coast style. Coltrane represented a serious statement of intent, and as it proved, the move from Prestige to Atlantic was propitious for everyone. As Kahn states, ‘It [Atlantic] was the right label with the right artist at the right time’.

The first album remains the opus here for ‘Giant Steps’ was and is an album of distinction and it is noteworthy that the modal flavours of ‘Kind of blue’ are not in evidence. Instead the cascading ‘sheets of sound’ of the title track unfold and never cease to be a thrilling experience. Performed at breakneck speed, ‘Mr PC’ is another all-time great number that Lambert, Hendricks and Ross attempted a successful vocalese version of, while the deeply romantic ‘Naima’ reflects the balladry prowess of the tenorist. Recorded in the same year of 1959, ‘Bags and Trane’ is a favourite of this writer and strikes just the right balance between modern bop and blues-soaked grooves, and has something of an extended and relaxed jam session feel. It would influence countless tenor and vibes collaborations, from Dexter Gordon to Joe Henderson with young kid on the block Bobby Hutcherson, and ‘Bags and Trane’ sounds nothing like the west coast combination of Stan Getz and Cal Tjader.

Coltrane was in a rich vein of form and recorded three further albums in 1960, one of which, ‘The Avant Garde’, only surfaced in 1966. Of the other two, ‘Coltrane plays the blues’ is a wonderful example of how ‘Trane could easily adapt to different contexts with soprano saxophone making a welcome appearance, and in this instance to a more blues-inflected environment. The languid blues, ‘Mr. Syms’ continues to impress with repeated listens and is reflective in tone. Arguably strongest of all is ‘Mr Day’, with a memorable bass line intro and stunning tenor and piano work in tandem. It is the gradual build up of tension in ‘Mr Knight’ that stands out with restrained tenor and piano to be gin with before reaching a smouldering intensity of heat, and with polyrhythmic accompaniment from master drummer Elvin Jones. Hinting at external influences, ‘Olé Coltrane’, features just three pieces, but what sumptuous music for all that! African hues are conjured up on the relaxing mid-tempo number, ‘Dahomey’, and would follow on from other pieces such as ‘Black Pearls’ and ‘Bahia’ that revealed a passionate interest in acquiring a deeper knowledge of the African diaspora in its widest sense. The pièce de résistance is the epic ‘Olé’ that takes up the whole of side one on the original vinyl and this is a brooding impressionistic reading of the Iberian peninsula, like a bull shaping up in anticipation of a fight to the death against a torrero (toreador) in an arena. McCoy Tyner contributes a lovely original in ‘Aisha’, marking him out as a young pianist to watch out for.

A sixth bonus CD assembles the out-takes that did not make it onto the original vinyl, though there is nothing new for those who purchased the individual CD re-issues. Of these, ‘Untitled original’ is most compelling a fully deserving of a title of some description. Only the 1960 recording of ‘The Avant Garde’, now seems slightly out of kilter with the rest and three out of the compositions were written by Ornette Coleman with Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell members of the piano-less quartet with Percy Heath taking care of bass duties, giving this something of a guest appearance feel for the leader.

The question, then, remains of whether long-time fans will wish to pick up the same recordings, if in mono this time round? It will depend ultimately on how complete a picture you wish to carve out of the Atlantic tenure. For those new to Coltrane, this represents an ideal and relatively inexpensive means of acquiring some of his key early period recordings, and even if you have some of the original, or re-issue vinyl, this is a handy way to hear the Atlantic recordings in one digestible whole.

Tim Stenhouse