John Coltrane ‘Four Classic Albums’ 2 CD (Avid Jazz) 4/5

For those on a limited budget, this is an ideal entry point from which to explore the music of John Coltrane and one that handily cuts across the three major labels for which the saxophonist recorded. While at present John Coltrane seems to be enjoying unprecedented attention in terms of re-issued material, the Avid series is nonetheless an attractive option for those who do not wish to shell out vast sums for a comprehensive box set, and may, in addition, be reticent to investigate the more adventurous later period offerings.It has to be stated from the outset that this is a random selection of albums, but has it’s own rationale of sorts. The first CD focuses on larger ensemble albums, while the second witnesses the early beginnings of what would become the classic quartet. Blue Note, Impulse and Atlantic are all represented.

John Coltrane recorded just one album for Blue Note as a leader (he recorded several as a sideman for others), but the 1957 offering was a veritable classic that featured a one-off line-up of Lee Morgan on trumpet, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Kenny Drew on piano, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer ‘Philly’ Joe Jones. The jewel in the crown here is the fast-paced, ‘Moment’s notice’, that has become something of a modern jazz standard, covered by Pharoah Sanders among others, and is an evergreen tune that never loses its intensity or stunning harmony. The title track is almost as good, with a horn riff that lingers. For some relief, ‘I’m old fashioned’, is a quality ballad that is handled with due care and sensitivity by Coltrane and the band. As a whole, Morgan and Coltrane made for a fabulous duo and that was probably not lost on Miles Davis who solicited the services of the tenorist for the next four years.

The ‘Africa Brass’ album is not the complete recording that has surfaced over the last fifteen years, but rather contains the original vinyl album listing of three numbers. A heavyweight reed section comprises the late Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard and Booker Little with the surprise presence of Sun Ra member. Pat Patrick on baritone saxophone. The piece ‘Africa’ is a brooding number that weaves itself into a frenzy and lasts over sixteen minutes, and filled the whole of the first side of the original vinyl. On side two of the album, the star billing is reserved for a thrilling take on the traditional number, ‘Greensleeves’. Coltrane offers up an original in, ‘Blues minor’. The second CD is memorable in that we begin to hear the smaller ensemble that would eventually morph into the classic quartet and on, Plays the blues’, three out of the four musicians are already in place. Coltrane alternates between tenor and soprano saxophones and is outstanding on the latter on both., ‘Mr Syms’ and a homage to one of his musical heroes in, ‘Blues to Bechet’. Side two of the original is especially strong with ‘Mr Day and Mr Knight’ standing out, and Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner prove to be ideal accompanists. The final album, ‘Olé’, reverts back to a slightly larger ensemble, with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, the little known George Lane on alto saxophone and flute, and bass duties shared by Art Davis and Reggie Workman. The title track stretches out for over eighteen minutes and is a flamenco-tinged number that is intense. Tyner contributes a lovely piece in, Aisha’, while Coltrane further explores distant shores in, Dahomey dance’. All albums have been re-issued before, but even if you already have one or two of them elsewhere, the four albums on a two CD concept is still unbeatable value.

Tim Stenhouse

Lou Rawls ‘Black and Blue’ (American Jazz Classics) 4/5

Originally the second album that Lou Rawls recorded for Capitol records, this recording has been re-issued previously, but with a different pairing altogether. In 2006 Capitol records paired the album with ‘Tobacco Road’, the third album. This time round, American Jazz Records have opted for a series of singles cut between 1959 and 1962 and that amount to fifteen additional songs, when Rawls was still seeking to establish himself and before he signed for Capitol in 1962.The original big band album features the cream of West coast jazz musicians and these include a dream horn section of Curtis Amy, Teddy Edwards and Sonny Criss, with bassist Curtis Counce and hammond organist Richard ‘Groove’ Holmes. As for the orchestra, it was conducted with arrangements made by Ozzy Matthews. Chicago born Rawls interprets an essentially blues standards repertoire, but, as befitting Rawls, his voice was a seductive combination of gospel, blues and jazz and Rawls excelled in performing at the musical intersection of these inter-related genres. Among the numbers selected for the album, the stand out tracks are a rousing, ‘I’d rather drink muddy water’, a lively ‘Everyday I have the blues’, which while not as compelling as Joe Williams’ version, is nonetheless strong, and a real favourite of Rawls that he would also record in a live context, the immortal, ‘St. James infirmary’. As far as the 45s are concerned, in truth they do not add a great deal, but are worthwhile for long-term fans who wish to have the complete set of early singles.

While the voice was distinctive and rapidly maturing, the instrumental accompaniment is somewhat non-descript and positively MOR in parts. Lou Rawls’ ability to attract a wider audience was never in doubt, but it would be another four years before he scored a gold selling album with ‘Live!’ from 1966, and then a first major single in the number one R & B hit 45, ‘Love is a hurtin’ thing’, taken from the ‘Soulin’ album. Original line notes to the album are included with a new set of notes from Mal Caesar that provide a useful historical overview to Rawls’ early career.

Tim Stenhouse

Karin Krog and Scott Hamilton ‘The Best Things in Life’ (Stunt) 3/5

Scott Hamilton is a well respected tenor saxophonist who has recorded in what is now referred to as the jazz mainstream and his fifty some albums are highly regarded and he was a stalwart of the Concord jazz label in the 1980s and 1990s. His style is very much in the lineage of Ben Webster and Lester Young. The idea of a duet recording with veteran Norwegian jazz singer Karen Krog is a largely inspiring one that for some recall a major highlight in Krog’s career, the 1970s pairing of her with another tenorist, then resident in Scandinavia, Dexter Gordon. While not on a par with that epic album, the new recording is not without its moments and was recorded in Copenhagen with Swedish pianist Jan Lundgren serving as an elegant sounding bridge and interpreter between the two leaders.
Typical of the album as a whole is the title track opener, which is a swinging affair from start to finish, with a fine tenor solo and Krog revealing a vulnerability in her voice. Not all the numbers are vocals (Krog is out on five pieces) and when the quartet has free reign to operate, they come up with gently swinging jazz as on,’Shake it, don’t break it’, which is a seldom covered original from pianist Errol Garner.

While it has to be said that Krog’s voice is not as strong as it once was and can sometimes be a little strained in parts, she does succeed in compensating with a far greater knowledge of the songbook and uses that to good effect. Vocalese comes into play on the excellent ‘Don’t get scared’, where the John Hendricks composed lyrics invites comparison with Annie Ross, and there is even a little scatting from Krog. The beautifully created cartoon front cover from enhances the listening experience.

Tim Stenhouse