on 2 June 2001
This session was hastily put together, recorded on the same day as another album, but in retrospect it turned out to be a visionary idea. How would one of the leading experimenters of the time tackle the very roots of the music, its most fundamental form? After listening to Coltrane Plays the Blues, no one could credibly accuse the form of being monotonous, infertile or banal.
In a tribute to Sidney Bechet, "Blues to Bechet", Coltrane plays the soprano saxophone alone with bass and drums, fusing blues and Middle Eastern idioms together in passionate, incantatory figures that dance like eddies in a mountain stream. "Mr. Syms" also features Coltrane on soprano, but here he merely states the theme, opening up the central solo space to McCoy Tyner, who delivers an exquisite blues, swinging with all the majesty of a great and profound tradition. In a time when both jazz and Coltrane himself were undergoing a period of turbulent self-analysis, this record serves as a refreshing reminder of the illuminating simplicity of the central architecture of jazz: the blues.
Ironically, but perhaps fittingly, the critic Ralph J. Gleason wrote in the original liner notes to Coltrane's Sound that "this music is an extraordinary example of the complex beauty of this most complex age".
That Coltrane was able to record two albums in the same day that masterfully captured the polar opposites of simplicity and complexity without contradiction is testament to his genius.
on 15 December 1999
For a single group of performers recording an album-length blues performance this is not your standard collection: there is no singer and indeed each number is quite distinct from the last. Quartet leader Coltrane alternates on tenor and soprano, he also cuts McCoy Tyner out on a couple of tracks (..to Bechet and ...to You) to provide a trio texture. These are not the only measures employed to extract variety from the standard blues form. A slow blues in E flat opens the album gently; more interesting is the pianoless Blues to Bechet, fittingly using soprano. Switching back to tenor, Coltrane produces harmonic effects in Blues To You which reflect the time of exploration he spent with Monk. This is pretty standard 'Trane, with the characteristic use of upper harmonics - not always successful! Bassist Steve Davis walks steadily throughout, but drummer Elvin Jones adds rhythmic counterpoint to the saxophonist's melodic exploration. Mr Day is a tidy little composition, arranged for syncopated bass and a rhythmic ostinato in the piano. Harmonically the piece has a quasi-modal feel, Tyner employing 11ths and 13ths throughout. Perhaps the improvised portion is over-lengthy for some tastes. Mr Syms again involves some more attention to composition and arrangement and Tyner is here giving the chance to do his funky stuff: a class act. Soprano arpeggios give an exotic flavour to usher in the reprise. Mr Knight is a fizzing 12-bar essay which benefits from a gradually broadening introduction. This album rates four stars because of the quality of the instrumental performances, and because of the recorded sound. It is also a genuine collection, not some anthology cooked up by a label. A tendency to overlong solos by the leader and the absence of organised composition on at least three of the tracks mean that the fifth star is quite a way off. That Ornette Coleman was already influential by the time this disc was cut render this an album of no great historical significance. It does however provide a few different flavours to the classic blues recipe.
on 9 June 2013
I bought this LP in my last year of university to play on my friend's record player, we'd come from a night out and sit and listen to it. It's mesmerising. Truly beautiful. I've listened to quite a bit of Coltrane in my time and it's by far one of my favourite records. It's greatly helped by having a CD copy, for all your digital needs, however, I've just taken to listening to it on the turntable instead.