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Unique Coltrane recordings,
This review is from: The Complete Africa / Brass Sessions (Audio CD)
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.