I'm surprised at the casual dismissals of this recording by some reviewers. The playing of everyone on the date is as strong as that on "Blue Trane" or, for that matter, any of the dates preceding "My Favorite Things." In fact, I can think of more expendable recording sessions by Coltrane after "Giant Steps" (definitely indispensable) than his always fresh and daring earlier work on Blue Note, Prestige, and Columbia. Beginning with "My Favorite Things" Coltrane's music would find a larger audience, especially among young listeners who, though strangers to the jazz tradition, became fascinated by the urgent, spiritual dimensions of Coltrane's playing, which could be numbingly repetitious (thank goodness that the 33-rpm format put time limits on it),
For musicians who had followed the music from Armstrong to Hawk to Lester to Bird, it was sessions like "Soultrane" that established Coltrane's credentials and "entitled" him to the innovations and experiments in his music 1960-1967, a time during which there was no shortage of pretenders assembled under the "free jazz" banner. The opening track, Tad Dameron's "Good Bait," is one of Coltrane's complete and satisfying performances, a comparatively short solo in which his harmonic-melodic vocabulary is exhaustive and his sound never more penetrating yet controlled. The next track, Billy Eckstine's "I Want to Talk About You," is a tune that would obsess Coltrane right up to 1965's "A Love Supreme." The lyrical and lovely performance of the ballad on "Soultrane," Coltrane's first recording of it to my knowledge, is a revelatory complement to the especially memorable performance on "Live at Birdland" (Impulse, 1963), on which the tenor giant concludes the tune with a breathtaking, absolutely stunning cadenza (his best performance on record, imo). Still, it's possible to begin with the later recording and to be equally appreciative of the earlier performance on "Soultrane."
"Soultrane" is also a reminder of the brilliance of Red Garland, before he was all but forgotten during the sonic assaults of the 60s. Though not as harmonically advanced as Coltrane, he turns in a double-time solo on "Good Bait" that's suggestive of Bud Powell at his best. Finally, "Soultrane" might be thought of as the "master takes" of the session that also produced "Traneing In." Both recordings, moreover, feature Coltrane layering mighty sheets of sound on Irving Berlin tunes ("Russian Lullaby" and "Soft Lights and Sweet Music").