on 2 June 2001
Giant Steps was possibly the most consistently outstanding tenor solo statement since Sonny Rollins' Saxophone Colossus. Of course, Coltrane's own performance on Kind of Blue, just a month or two before, is now legendary, but he had shared the glory with soloists of a similar calibre, and furthermore the present recording contained nothing but his own compositions. Here his phenomenal vision and technique shone with spellbinding power, framed exquisitely by the sheer authority of a superb rhythm section.
The title tune features a huge, assured performance from Coltrane, with Art Taylor providing densely argued rhythmic support. Only Tommy Flanagan appears to struggle with this intensity, but treats it with both affection and mastery 23 years later with the superlative tribute Giant Steps: In Memory of John Coltrane (Enja, 1982). On "Cousin Mary" Paul Chambers is on tremendous form, playing generous, confident bass behind Coltrane's swelling tenor. Less well-known, bordering on the unreal, is "Countdown", now more frequently recognised as a singular item in the jazz canon. It's blistering, exhausting and exhaustive, a swirling madness of harmonic and tonal exploration. Flanagan, more assured now, comps solidly behind Trane, helping him to build up to a final climax, in which contrary to convention, Trane states the theme. Rounding off the sound and accelerating the tempo almost imperceptibly, Paul Chambers enters seemingly without effort, helping to create an exhilarating tapestry reminiscent of Miles Davis' "Tune Up" on Cookin'. The rarely revisited "Spiral" has a wonderful, swinging pulse, and deserves to be better represented in subsequent musicians' tributes. "Syeeda's Song Flute" is a simple theme, tersely set up, demanding release. It provides the background for one of Trane's most eloquent and expressive solos on the album. Flanagan delivers, true to form, a solo of light, lucid transparency, not dissimilar in execution to the solos of the great Sonny Clark. "Naima" is the album's most emblematic piece, now firmly associated with John Coltrane as a defining composition - self-searching, built upon a melody so simple it can be reduced to two scales. This austerity, combined with a fervent inner zeal, are among the most distinctive characteristics of the Coltrane oeuvre.
Giant Steps ends with "Mr P.C." (for the bassist Paul Chambers), a massive, swelling blues, lifted from its primal essentials to an ethereal hymn-like height with a riveting melodic solo.
Giant Steps is an essential purchase.
on 25 November 2004
'Giant Steps' overturned many of the stereotypes I had about post-war (more specifically 1950's) jazz. From most of the movies I've seen from that era, jazz was wallpaper music, bland background to the cliches on the screen. Imagine how I felt when I first put on 'Giant Steps'. This is definitely not "easy-listening".
The energized melody of the title track bursts from the record in a relentless attack. The imagination of Coltrane's playing can best be heard on 'Cousin Mary' where he begins with swing before taking the melody on a world tour from the blues to the Far East. 'Countdown' sounds initially like uncomprimising free-jazz but there is a strong rhythm behind it that you can even snap your fingers to and there isn't a more delightful moment on the album than it's whistful ending. Coltrane's playing on the second version included here is even more astounding.
Coltrane takes us on another journey back and forth between jazz's past and future with 'Spiral', swaying between a swinging tempo and a halting, Eastern-thinged descent. It's emotional intensity is a staple of this remarkable album. On 'Syeeda's Song Flute' the master gives the other players a chance to shine with Tommy Flanagan's playing unthinkably cool and unrelenting at the same time. The track segues ponderously into 'Naima' where Flanagan again comes to the fore with some of his most personal playing, while the saxophone smoulders.
'Mr. PC' combines all the best of John Coltrane and the backing trio on this album. His heady mixture of old-time jazz, swing and his own intense improvisations conspire to deliver a hothouse performance with the other players driving hard behind him.
'Giant Steps' is an album that any serious music lover should have in their collection, artistic, cerebral and emotional all at the same time.
on 5 May 2001
This is another excellent outing for John Coltrane, and although it was his first effort to consist entirely of his own compositions, it is far from a radical departure.
The band provide superb backup, especially Paul Chambers on bass, who lends his initials to one of the best tracks, "Mr PC". My favourite, however, is "Syeeda's Song Flute" purely for the relaxed sync-ops riff Coltrane uses at the beginning of the track. Those who prefer Coltane's frantic soloing will not be disappointed - "Countdown" is outrageously fast.
Overall, a solid album, which is great fun to listen to. A good intro to John Coltrane.
on 29 May 2010
This review is about the 2002 Atlantic Masters version with 8 bonus tracks of Giant Steps by John Coltrane, album originally released in January 1960. The bonus tracks are 4 alternate takes (alternative recordings of the pieces included in the original album and performed by the same lineup) and 4 alternate versions (alternative recordings of the pieces included in the original album but performed by a different lineup). Here are more details:
Recordings March 26, 1959
John Coltrane (tenor sax), Cedar Walton (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Lex Humphries (drums)
Giant Steps (alternate version 1)
Naima (alternate version 1)
Giant Steps (alternate version 2)
Naima (alternate version 2)
Recordings May 4 and 5, 1959
John Coltrane (tenor sax), Tommy Flanagan (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Art Taylor (drums)
Giant Steps (original album)
Cousin Mary (original album)
Countdown (original album)
Spiral (original album)
Syeeda's Song Flute (original album)
Mr. P.C. (original album)
Cousin Mary (alternate take)
Countdown (alternate take)
Syeeda's Song Flute (alternate take)
Giant Steps (alternate take)
Recordings December 2, 1959
John Coltrane (tenor sax), Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums)
Naima (original album)
Observe that the March sessions were not used in the album, Giant Steps and the other compositions (except Naima) were re-recorded in May changing pianist and drummer. Nearly seven months later Naima was re-recorded for the third time with the rhythm section from Miles Davis Kind of Blue (Kelly, Chambers, Cobb). So what you have in this Atlantic Masters version is the possibility to live the history that lead to the final album version of Giant Steps. Plus you can fully enjoy a very good and natural re-mastered sound, much better than the previous CD release.
A totally worth upgrade if you have the older CD releases and a must if you love jazz and still do not have this masterpiece.
on 2 October 2003
This is the record that put Coltrane up onto the pedestal from which he cast a shadow over every tenor player of his generation.
It bursts with power and energy, combining Coltrane's frightening technique and the searing, crying intensity of his tenor sound, propelled forwards by a driving rythmn section featuring excellent work from pianist Tommy Flanagan.
It's not all full-speed ahead, though, as "Naima" is a delicate, gentle masterpiece.
For those coming to this record from a more bluesy/soul-jazz angle, you might try "Blue Train" first. Alternatively, if you want to hear that beatiful saxophone sound in all its tender glory, try the "Ballads" album. Coltrane, of course, also appeared on the legendary Miles Davis album "Kind of Blue", which is a must for every jazz record collection.
on 21 June 2007
A reviewer cannily called this "be-bop x10". I have to add +1 to that statement, there's (unfortunately) only ever been the one John Coltrane-nobody but nobody ever, regardless of instrument or genre has ever showed such complete mastery of their instrument in a "solo" context. Miles (in jazz circles) is ultimately & rightfully known to be the master for manifold reasons but nobody, even bird, coleman hawkins, sonny, diz or the master himself has ever displayed virtuosity quite like "trane".
This album marks the peak of this man's recorded prowess, yes, a love supreme is truly a supreme recording but for me, actually serves as a bookmark that pairs with this record. giant steps marks the beginning of coltrane's absolute peak of perfection & the impulse recording serves as the last truly great statement made by the man.
What an incredible couple of months april & may of 1959 turned out to be in the history of music! "trane" revolutionising, indeed re-inventing what could be done with an instrument as a solo voice with miles on kinda blue as miles turned jazz on it's head & then putting the pedal to the metal & blowing away everybody who thought they could still stun with ultra fast, slick be-bop principles despite miles having just provided an alternative expression, by making this album!
If you consider yourself a virtuoso on your instrument then you must have studied this album, if you're a discerning music listener please don't be put off because the melodies are strong, the grooves are hypnotic, the band are empathetic & inspired & you shouldn't believe the older reviewers who call it difficult listening.
If you appreciate great music & don't possess this album, whatever your taste, open your mind NOW.
on 18 December 2010
Most Coltrane fans eulogise about 'A Love Supreme' or 'Blue Train' and rightly so, as they are superb. However, being relatively new to John Coltrane's work (at least in trms of owning the albums), I was very pleasantly surprised by this album which is very rounded and is accessible to anyone wanting to develop a further interest in John Coltrane's work.
I own several of John Coltrane's albums, but for now at least, this is my favourite.
on 20 March 2014
If you like jazz that swings, rushes, leaps, swoops and is generally all round as cool and hot as a er.... weird refrigerator, then this is for you. Coltrane at his best, full of power and swinging like his life depended on it. Every track is great, all the musicians are great, just buy it!
Now, before I attract the ire of jazz aficionados who really understand the true definition (if indeed there is one) of 'straight-ahead' jazz, I am using the term in my own very rudimentary parlance to reflect Coltrane's 'mid-period' playing (and recordings) - essentially that period (roughly) between his (be-bop) playing with the Miles Davis Quintet and his 'freer' playing post A Love Supreme. Giant Steps is also, for me, one of Coltrane's most (commercially) accessible recordings, containing some of the most sublime melodies and hooks he ever recorded, making it a very good place to start for someone looking to get into his music for the first time.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the compositions (all by Coltrane) on the album are also all relatively succinct and well-defined, all coming in at or below the 7 minute duration mark. These relatively short durations, plus the restrained playing by (in particular) pianist Tommy Flanagan and drummer Art Taylor result in each song essentially being a showcase for Coltrane's tenor playing (which given the quality of the compositions and playing is no bad thing) - for example, there is no real call here for the more flamboyant playing of the great Elvin Jones on the later, more extended Coltrane numbers, such as Impressions, Olé or Out Of This World.
There are, of course no duff tunes here. Each of the title tune, Cousin Mary (which features, along with Mr P.C., Flanagan's most expansive solo) and Spiral are straight-ahead (there it is again) classics. Syeeda's Song Flute begins with a deceptively jaunty motif before Coltrane launches into some of his most blistering playing on the album. On the other hand, the composer's dedication to his then wife, Naima, is simply one of Coltrane's most exquisitely melodic and finely judged compositions ever. The astonishing sub-three minute Countdown is a pulsating tour-de-force, on which Coltrane follows Taylor's solo lead-in with a full-on stream of notes. But, if I had to pick one tune as my favourite on the album it would be the closing, fast-moving blues, Mr P.C. (a dedication to his bass player, Paul Chambers), which, for me, is nearly seven minutes of pure brilliance, one of Coltrane's greatest ever compositions (and certainly his most dynamic ever).
The CD I have also has five bonus tracks, two of which feature Cedar Walton on piano and Lex Humphries on drums. Perhaps reassuringly, none of these versions surpass those included on the released album (but with Countdown, nearly twice the length of the 'original', coming closest).
For me, easily one of the 10 greatest jazz albums ever recorded.
That is what Coltrane is on the title track of this album. At what is already a ferocious tempo Coltrane kicks into his first solo playing a double time solo where it seems every chord change has every possible note combination played. I was absolutely astonished when I first heard this. Ira Gitler used the term 'Sheets of Sound' to describe Coltrane's playing, and I'm sure it was this title track that gave him the idea. However don't misunderstand this album. This isn't the Coltrane of the mid 1960's onwards, where I do struggle to keep up with his more avant-garde playing.
The tunes on this album are very strong. 'Naima' is a beautiful slow number that hints at the ballads record he would record a year or two later. The vastly under-rated Wynton Kelly is the only musician to play a solo on this track. Its both lyrical and subtle and leads back to Coltranes repeated theme statement. 'Mr. P.C.' is a simple minor blues that belts along. Again though unless you are die-hard traditionalist there is nothing on this track that could be considered 'difficult'.
The other musicians are:
Lex Humphries, Art Taylor, Jimmy Cobb - Drums
Paul Chambers - Bass
Cedar Walton, Tommy Flanagan, Wynton Kelly - Piano
This is essential for any Jazz collection.