This lovely album of ballads has generated many different explanations of how it came about; however, I think it's enough just to be glad it did. For those for whom Coltrane's sustained attack, note-bending, or simply sheer blowing power is too much, you'll find a sanctuary here. The discipline of the ballad form, allied to a marvellously sympathetic quartet (Tyner on piano; Garrison on bass; Jones on drums) ensure that his blowing is restrained, yet far from inhibited.
The intuitive interplay between the group members seems perfectly normal, until you realise that, with the exception of the enchanting 'It's Easy to Remember', they had never played these pieces prior to recording. Coltrane's horn caresses the notes, but can also inject a little bite from time to time, while Tyner's keyboard work brings colour and warmth to each number. Garrison and Jones rhythm section propel each piece with effortless poise. Sound quality is very good, while the attractive gatefold case has liner notes and timings. This album comes highly recommended in both Gramophone and Penguin Jazz Guides, should you need any further persuasion.
My only disappointment is the short running time of 32 minutes, so you could choose the 2cd version with out-takes bulking things up. However, my advice would be to resist having the spell this album casts diluted in any way; the riches here far outweigh reservations over length. This album, coupled with the warmly lyrical, melodic 3cd set 'Slowtrane' Slowtrane demonstrates a warmer more emotional, and much more accessible Coltrane than some of his other work. Well worth exploring.
John Coltrane left behind such a varied catalogue of recordings it's hard for the neophyte to get a handle on him. From the 'out there' recordings like 'Ascension' or 'Giant Steps' to more traditional fare like 'Plays the Blues' or the hard bopping 'Blue Train',there is always new angles from which to approach Mr Coltrane. Surprising then that nestling somewhat in the background are beautiful little gems like 'John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman' and 'Ballads' to enjoy,where melody and restraint are order of the day.
'Ballads' is the kind of album that you could play at a dinner party and find that even amongst those of your friends who loathe jazz, you'll find them gradually being converted to the low-key beauty on offer here.Few sparks fly and yes solos are restricted, but what matters is the burnished tone of Coltrane's sax, his respect for melody and the intimately swinging group interplay.Critics may suggest that the overall effect is rather bland but all I can say is that while I love Coltrane in overheated exploratory mode, I also enjoy him in mellow moments as well.'Ballads' may have been an attempt by Coltrane to have things both ways - cultivate an minority audience for his more extravaganza musings to be funded by sales from more mainstream efforts. It was a strategy that allowed him artistic freedom that might otherwise have been denied.So 'Ballads' is as much a canny piece of marketing as it was and is, a sincere artistic statement in it's own right.
'Ballads' is simply a lovely album. Rather on the short side, but each number is a gem (particularly beautiful: 'Nancy (With The Smiling Face')and the recording sounds fresh minted,so it's an easy album to heartily recommend. Whenever you need to relax, this is the disc that needs to get into your CD player. The ultimate late night jazz album.
I have been listening to the music of John Coltrane for many years and I admire music from all periods of his output including his most challenging. I consider him to be the outstanding exponent of his era, along with (for very different reasons) Sonny Rollins. I would strongly recommend this flawless album to everyone and anyone, regardless of their depth of involvement with Jazz. This is not a difficult listen, there is nothing on here to frighten your grandmother, yet the playing is as assured, emotionally intense and creatively fluent as on any I can think of. This is extremely accomplished music of great purity and beauty.
This is a classic and proves the point that JC had the full credentials to be experimental and avantgard whilst at the same time could lay down tender, lyrical ballads in his unique and unmatched style. A current top line British saxophonist told me that this is the collection he recommends when introducing JC to the uninitiated.
This group of eight gentle ballads recorded in 1961 shows the gentler side of John Coltrane. Unusually for Coltrane each track is of short duration (the longest is 5.11) but each track is exquisitely crafted. A masterpiece of subtlety. Needless to say, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones give solid support throughout.
Extreme jazz purists may criticise this album - in the same way that wine snobs don't think wine should be available in supermarkets. I like it as much as my other Coltrane albums and I can play it in front of non-jazz fans.