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.
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