This classic album by the great saxophonist John Coltrane(1926-67) was recorded at the prolific sessions in New York City during October, 1960 which also produced the ATLANTIC albums 'Coltrane Plays The Blues' and 'Coltrane's Sound'. With Coltrane(tenor & soprano sax) were pianist McCoy Tyner; bassist Steve Davis & drummer Elvin Jones who'd recently joined Coltrane's band. Coltrane's playing is powerful and intensely moving supported by a superb rhythm section on four standards. Highlight, inevitably, is Trane's hypnotic 13-minute work-out on 'My Favorite Things' which he returned to again and again for the rest of his career. There's also a fine version of Gershwin's 'Summertime' with Trane on tenor. This 2005 ATLANTIC MASTERS edition includes the two-part single of 'My Favorite Thing' as a bonus. 'My Favorite Things' still sounds fresh and exhilarating over 50 years later and is an essential item in any Coltrane collection.
Jazz musicians, from Louis Armstrong to Miles Davis covering Michael Jackson's "Human Nature", often used standards as launch pads for explorations, and Trane does exactly that in this wonderful album. The key track is of course the title track: you will probably know it from The Sound Of Music (though I did not when I first heard it). But Trane makes it all his own: in a 3/4 waltz time, Trane takes the harmony with a soprano sax (a gift from Miles Davis) while McCoy Tyner plays some astonishing long solos on a close-miked piano and comps the rhythm while Trane solos to see the song out. What's fascinating is the way that Trane plays with the melody, bending and misshaping it, and how Tyner's solo stretches out, almost peering towards infinity, yet never becomes boring. Trane continued to use My Favourite Things as a concert standard thorughout his life - but forever making it anew, as he explored into dissonance, chromaticism and the free jazz of "Ascension" that he is perhaps better known for. (His version from the Village Vanguard near the end of his life is breathtakingly powerful but extremely dissonant - not easy listening!).
"Ev'rytime We Say Goodbye" is a lush tune, a cover of the Cole Porter song. It's a great reminder that while Trane was known as being a hugely powerful sax player, he always loved playing ballads. It's not quite up to "After The Rain" from "Impressions", perhaps his greatest ballad, but it's not far off for its sheer emotive quality, similar to "Blues In Green" from Davis' "Kind Of Blue" (which Trane played on, of course).
"But Not For Me" and "Summertime" are more energetic, with the latter having a bouncy exhuberance, and the former a manic compulsiveness. They further demonstrate Trane's variety, technique, imagination, and band-leading qualities, as Elvin Jones drums superbly (especially on "Summertime") and Tyner plays wonderfully throughout. (It helps that the piano is higher in the mix than, say, in Miles Davis albums of the same period.)
If you are new to Coltrane, then this is probably the best place to start, as it contains in embryo or miniature many of his remarkable qualities, and is easier on the ears than "A Love Supreme" or "Acension", both of which are more experimental (and completely successful). Treat yourself and find out why Coltrane is spoken of in such exhalted terms.
"My Favorite Things" is an important milestone in John Coltrane's all-too-brief but indisputably stellar career. It marks the point where, after years of playing second fiddle to Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and others from whom he learned so much, he finally formed and led his own quartet and began to carve out that distinctive Trane sound. One of the tragedies for 20th century music is that only 7 years later, Trane died of cancer at age 40 whilst still in the full flush of his musical prime.
The album contains only four pieces, kicking off with the title track. If you know the cheesy but enormously successful 1965 Rogers and Hammerstein film "The Sound of Music" and hate it with a passion, don't be put off by the fact that Trane's young quartet lifts one of its best-known songs (in 1960 it was only a stage musical playing on Broadway) as the title-track. Richard Rodgers' original melody is the start-point: the band ups the tempo and re-works the piece with vision and creative brilliance into something extraordinary. Devoid of lyrics, Trane's sublime soprano sax substitutes for the vocal line and alternates with the superlative piano skills of McCoy Tyner to weave a driving, listener-involving improvisation on the basic melody for more than 10 minutes: the result bears little resemblance to the simplistic song from the original musical and reinforces the oft-quoted contention that in jazz, the basic source material can be almost anything and the musician interpreting and improvising on the piece is everything that matters. Listen to this a couple of times and Julie Andrews' Sister Maria will never sound the same again, I promise.
"Every Time We Say Goodbye" calms down the mood with a slower tempo which allows the band to stretch out more. Trane fills this lyrical piece with long cascades of notes, stays close to the melody and at the same time introduces a new dynamic which is (don't mean this to sound pretentious, but...) almost spiritually sublime. He played sax like an expressive singer might use his voice.
"Summertime" follows the style of the title track in upping the tempo of Gershwin's famous tune, infusing energy and dynamic inventiveness. The interplay between the members of the band is most evident here, as everyone joins in the party and becomes involved. Contrast what Trane's quartet does with this piece with Miles' cleaner, more relaxed take on his Gil Evans collaboration "Porgy and Bess".
In "But Not for Me," again the tempo is increased and a complex tapestry of improvisation is woven towards darker and moodier territory than usually inhabited by Gershwin's original. As always the band is tight and intuitive, creating the feeling in the listener of a restless soul in self-analysis, interlocking and interplaying until the conflict is resolved.
This band sure could play, and they're great to listen to. Relaxing - probably not, but enjoyable and rewarding - definitely. As a counterpoint and compliment to "Kind of Blue" (the one jazz album everyone in the world should have in their music collection) you couldn't do better. MFT is more insistent, focussed, daring; one feels Trane often has to reel himself in from a kind of spirit-possession to bring these extraordinary and groundbreaking musical journeys to orderly conclusion.
There is a story that Trane once asked advice from Miles Davis about the best way to disengage from extensive improvisation on the sax and come back to the melody, how to end the "soul possession" of the journey and return to ground. Miles is said to have thought for a moment and then, ever the grounded, practical minimalist, famously declared: "Just take the mother...... out of your mouth."
In a way, one could almost say that an album where John Coltrane covers, arguably, four of the most popular songs of the 20th century (albeit of varying heritages), in this case Rogers & Hammerstein's title song, Gershwin's Summertime and If Not For Me and Cole Porter's Everytime We Say Goodbye, the listener is being granted something of an easy win. However, whilst this album provides a good (more accessible) way in to Coltrane's music, being built around a series of infectious (and generally well known) melodies, there is also a lot going on in his band of MyCoy Tyner (piano), Steve Davis (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums). My Favourite Things is also a notable album since it was the first time Coltrane was recorded on soprano saxophone, a sound which marked the player's gradual move towards more non-Western influences that was to be further developed on the Africa/Brass and Olé Coltrane albums.
This album is probably at its most conventional during the sublime, and relatively concise, interpretation of Everytime We Say Goodbye (which, given that it is one of my all-time favourite songs was never going to miss the target). Coltrane's soprano playing here is in its most deliberate and melody-following mode, which simply (and strangely) serves to make it all the more emotionally devastating, and provides a perfect platform for McCoy Tyner's equally impressive solo. Of course, Coltrane's version of the title song, apart from being an amazing interpretation of what is essentially The Sound Of Music's childlike ditty, was the piece of music that brought Coltrane to more popular attention and was to feature as an integral part of his live performances. Indeed, the version included here is, at over 13 minutes duration, a relatively short version for Coltrane, who was later known to fill an entire evening's set (of over 90 minutes) with the tune (as well as including longer live versions on a number of later albums).
Virtuosity-wise, however, it is on the two Gershwin numbers that the band and, in particular, Coltrane (this time on tenor) really excel. His astonishing 'sheets of sound' modal playing on Summertime pays only loose (though always detectable) attention to the song's underlying melody, whilst both Tyner and Davis are afforded room to develop impressive solos. Similarly, But Not For Me is another great example of Coltrane's exposition and development technique around a tune's central theme, with likewise Tyner developing one of his most extended, vibrant and lyrical solos.
An essential recording in any Coltrane collection.
If you are reading this review wondering where to start with Coltrane, this is a pretty good place. If the title isn't enough of a clue, the track listing should help you figure out that this is Coltrane playing standards. And playing them as melodic standards, not the free jazz you may have been fearing. It's an enormously accessible album - I defy anyone to resist the Cole Porter classic Every Time We say Goodbye - and a great showcase for Coltrane's skills. Unusually, the two "bonus tracks" even merit inclusion. It should leave you wanting to hear more Coltrane - I'd recommend "Crescent" after this - and maybe, like me you'll want to hear more of McCoy Tyner who plays piano wonderfully on both albums.
If Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" is generally regarded als the best jazz album ever made, "My favorite things" by John Coltrane has to come second. Containing four quite contrasting songs, this album sounds as a coherent piece of music and always keeps the flow going. The first two songs "My favorite things" and the Cole Porter cover "Every time we say goodbye" are my personal favorites, because you hear John Coltrane on soprano sax and McCoy Tyner on piano who plays some brilliant solo's. The other two tracks are in a bit brighter tempo, but equally good. The best about this album however is, that because it's so stunningly perfect, you can play it anytime, anywhere, and you'll never get bored of it. On the contrary, the more you'll listen to it, the more you'll appreciate it. No serious jazz collection can be without this album. Buy it!
I had always rather held back from Coltrane. He seemed to be "difficult". However an approach via his work with Miles Davis inevitably led to the man himself. For those looking for a direct entree to the great man's works this is an ideal starter. Coltrane still played the title track up until very near his death. His and the album's influence lives on.