This album reveals yet another dimension to Coltrane's remarkable repetoire of recordings over just a single decade. Africa/Brass bridges the end of his tenure with the Atlantic label and the Classic quartet.It is unique amongst his work in that it is the only time he used jazz orchestra arrangements, with the possible exception of Ascension (although that was more a case of collective improvisation with an expanded group)
It is ambitious in it's scope and content, but succeeds on both counts,the orchestra is very much in the background but is highly effective,and the material itself is varied and fascinating. The original album only contained half the recorded material for these sessions, and as with some of his other recordings on Impulse, the full story did not emerge until after his death, with the release of volume 2. It is all together here, though, including alternate takes and session details.
'Greensleeves' is probably Coltrane's most effective soprano sax performance after 'My Favourite Things,' and was the best known track from this set; however the title track and particularly 'Song of the Underground Railroad' are for me the standout pieces here. The later is a blistering, fast swinging interpretation of an old folk song, a truly brilliant performance from Coltrane and also McCoy Tyner. 'Africa' itself is hard to describe, as it is unlike anything else he recorded; it is a long, slowly unfolding improvisation which builds atmosphere and tension, and the three takes differ significantly.
Overall, this is one of the essential Coltrane albums, so if you are a fan, or you are just getting into Coltrane then this comes highly recommended.
on 9 August 2007
Never mentioned in the same breath as Giant Steps or A Love Supreme, or even Blue Train, the Africa/Brass sessions come together to rank as some of John Coltrane's most underrated recordings. Obviously the reason it has not got as much attention as the first two albums I mentioned is that it can not be considered as one of his ground-breaking records. Nevertheless, it acts as a fine bridge between Coltrane's middle period (Blue Train, Giants Steps etc.) and his later period (A Love Supreme, Sun Ship etc.). While his playing is by no means mainstream, it is still very listenable to those who find his post A Love Supreme work a step too far.
The material is greatly varied containing hard driving swing (Song of the Underground railroad and Blues Minor), a waltz (Greensleeves) and one of Coltrane's first experiments into dispensing a western time signature and in its place using a drone (Africa). The remaining track, The Damned Don't Cry, features a 12/8 head with a medium blues solo section.
Greensleeves is strikingly similar to My Favourite Things, and features Coltrane on soprano sax with a superb, if slightly haunting orchestral accompaniment. Next up is Song of the Underground railroad which is a frantically fast swing number which features Coltrane ripping through the changes as only he could. It is arguably the highlight of the album, and yet it is a wonder why the track is still relatively unknown all these years later. The Damned Don't Cry features a comparitively mediocore solo by Coltrane though the main theme is played intriguingly on trumpet by Booker Little. Blues Minor does exactly what is says on the tin with another storming solo from Coltrane (It was upon hearing this track that I decided to buy the album.). Africa is the most unusual piece in these sessions and was a sign of things to come from later in Coltrane's career. The discs feature three quite different takes of this piece and it is up to the listener to decide what their favourite one is.
It is worth mentioning how important the orchestra (conducted by Eric Dolphy) is to these sessions. It heightens the intensity of Coltrane's playing (as if it needed it) and it provides an interesting and, as I mentioned in the title, unique setting for his playing. For this reason alone these sessions are worth owning.
While the music is first class the one downside is the order of the tracks which are played in the order that they were recorded. By the third track you are already at an alternative take of Greensleeves! The solution to this is to make a mix CD (or something similar) of your own.
To conclude, the Africa/Brass sessions are a supremely accessible set of recordings of John Coltrane at his very best. Anybody who's a fan of him should own them.
on 30 March 2012
While this is not quite in the same league as "Live At the Village Vanguard" this is a fantastic example of Impulse sympathetically perfecting Coltrane's discography. The original release of "Africa/Brass" only featured three of the tracks here and, even allowing for the three versions of "Africa" itself and the two of "Greesleeves", "The Complete...Sessions" are just that and excellent value are beautifully packaged. Those who pine for the original (a slightly unbalanced and, well, slight release in my opinion) can program the tracks accordingly.
As for the music, this is a unique example of Coltrane with orchestra although the closest thing sonically is the octet performances at the Village Vanguard a few months later. While Eric Dolphy is credited with conducting the orchestra a number of essayists have, over time, sought to downplace his role. Regardless of attribution and credit, the result is wonderful. Energetic and tight like a quartet but full and textured like an orchestra.
Whether you have the original release or not, this is very highly recommended indeed.
'Africa/Brass' by the great saxophonist John Coltrane(1926-1967) was his debut album for the IMPULSE! label recorded in New Jersey on May 23 & June 4, 1961.
This overlooked 2-CD set is an expanded version with five extra tracks including two alternative takes of 'Africa', one of 'Greensleeves' plus the traditional 'Song of the Underground Railroad' aka 'The Drinking Gourd' and Cal Massey's 'The Damned Don't Cry' all of which remained unissued until the mid-1970s.
The quartet features Coltrane(tenor & soprano sax); McCoy Tyner(piano); Reggie Workman(bass) & Elvin Jones(drums) augmented by a large mainly brass ensemble with minimal but effective arrangements by Coltrane & McCoy Tyner and orchestrations by Eric Dolphy.
Coltrane is in powerful form throughout and this fascinating, enthralling music deserves a place in any serious modern jazz collection.
on 12 January 2008
Musically, this is one of my favourite John Coltrane albums. McCoy Tyner's piano style is transposed to the big band arrangements, making it sound simultaneously familiar and different to all of Coltrane's work up to that point, and I'm always a fan of the music Coltrane made when he teamed up with Eric Dolphy. My five stars go to the music itself, as released at the time.
However, this is one of those annoying reissues that doesn't actually have the original album as people knew and loved at the time. The tracks are spread across two discs, interspersed with alternative takes and bonus tracks which, while interesting to Coltrane fans, aren't the main attraction. If the alternative takes were isolated to the second disc, keeping the original tracklisting intact on disc one (as with certain other reissues such as "Coltrane" or "Ballads"), it would be a much stronger release. Luckily I was able to sequence the original album on a CDR by myself, and have since put this release into storage.