42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2001
This session was hastily put together, recorded on the same day as another album, but in retrospect it turned out to be a visionary idea. How would one of the leading experimenters of the time tackle the very roots of the music, its most fundamental form? After listening to Coltrane Plays the Blues, no one could credibly accuse the form of being monotonous, infertile or banal.
In a tribute to Sidney Bechet, "Blues to Bechet", Coltrane plays the soprano saxophone alone with bass and drums, fusing blues and Middle Eastern idioms together in passionate, incantatory figures that dance like eddies in a mountain stream. "Mr. Syms" also features Coltrane on soprano, but here he merely states the theme, opening up the central solo space to McCoy Tyner, who delivers an exquisite blues, swinging with all the majesty of a great and profound tradition.
In a time when both jazz and Coltrane himself were undergoing a period of turbulent self-analysis, this record serves as a refreshing reminder of the illuminating simplicity of the central architecture of jazz: the blues. Ironically, but perhaps fittingly, the critic Ralph J. Gleason wrote in the original liner notes to Coltrane's Sound that "this music is an extraordinary example of the complex beauty of this most complex age".
That Coltrane was able to record two albums in the same day that masterfully captured the polar opposites of simplicity and complexity without contradiction is testament to his genius.
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2004
October 1960 was one of those prolific times during Trane's career where in a short period he was able to turn out album after album of classic music in an extremely brief span. My Favorite Things, Coltrane's Sound, and Coltrane Plays the Blues, all cornerstones of jazz's period of transition of the early 60's were recorded in one month.
This unbelievable actuality brings me to the review of perhaps my favorite out of all of the 3. In the liner notes of Plays the Blues, Joe Goldberg describes a typical club date for Trane during this time. He states that when appearing at a club, the last set of the evening typically is devoted to the blues. Today it is hard for the majority of jazz listeners to imagine or even fathom seeing Trane at the Vanguard, the Half Note, or Birdland, but by putting Plays the Blues and closing your eyes, this album may be closest we can get to imagining a smoky club in the 60's at midnight, when the real fans come out to see Trane play the blues. The album itself is separated into two somewhat-relating halves. Blues for Elvin kicks the first half with a slow blues featuring the full quartet of the time (the classic quartet, save for Steve Davis instead of Jimmy Garrison), Trane builds a lovely, soulful solo with gorgeous accompaniment from McCoy. The next two tracks feature the trio of Elvin and Steve Davis, Blues for Bechet has Trane on soprano and Blues to You, my favorite track on the album has one of the finest solos on the blues I have ever heard.
The second half is tracks evoking other feelings of the blues. Mr. Day and Mr. Knight are much more modal examples of the blues and the best writing on the album as well as McCoy's best playing. These tunes should be considered a stepping point as to the direction of his music from then on. Compare these tracks to Chris Potter's tribute "The Source" on the fantastic Gratitude. Mr. Syms is a fascinating minor blues with jaw-dropping soprano work. Artist's ranging from Billy Bang to Mark Whitfield has covered this track.
Coltrane Plays the Blues is the most underrated masterpiece of Coltrane's early 60's transition period and has yet to take its deserved place with My Favorite Things or Africa/Brass as early classic. That withstanding, those who own Coltrane Plays the Blues, may see it as a treasure that comes as close as some can get to seeing the late set back at the Half Note in 1960
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 1998
This album is right up there amongst Coltrane's best. All six original tunes are fantastic, and like most coltrane albums, this one has varying levels of complexity so that it provides just as much pleasure after months of listening as it does the first time. Recorded around the same time as, and in a class with "My favorite things".
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
In his liner notes to "Coltrane Plays The Blues," Joe Goldberg concludes that "...one of the most restless experimenters in jazz has far from exhausted the possibilities of the music's oldest form." Indeed, this quartet (drummer Elvin Jones, pianist Mc Coy Tyner, bassist Steve Davis) pushed the music ever further with their seismic "Giant Steps" and "My Favorite Things."
Recorded 40 years ago this month (in one day-long session!), "Blues" is yet another jewel in Coltrane's Atlantic Records crown. It is a traditional, earthbound return in name only; Coltrane the composer and his quartet borrow from spiritually-charged Indian and Middle Eastern styles influencing their early work, and from then-former labelmate Ray Charles' Latin-flavored R&B jazz with Mongo Santamaria and David Newman.
With the stinging solos on "Blues To Bechet" and "Blues To You," (which Greenberg describes as "strictly contemporary Coltrane") the master brings intensity and experimentation to a form known for sparsity and grit. Tyner (who stars in the set's "Untitled Original" not in blues style), Davis and especially Jones form a blues box where Coltrane flutters (through eight minutes of "Mr. Day") or slyly waits to crash through on "Mr. Knight" (seeming to interrupt a percussive Tyner/Jones musical conversation with soft, more than tonal screeches). Coltrane would take the music progressive light years from this blues base in his last years, but would never show the concentration or innately swinging feel he does here.
"Coltrane Plays The Blues" is intensely done, classically shaped jazz that, while outstanding in its own right and essential for longtime fans, only hints at his importance to the newly initiated. Instead, new fans should reach for MCA/Impulse's Johnny Hartman LP, the melodic "Gentle Side of John Coltrane" or Atlantic/Rhino's new Coltrane best-of, which make a stronger career case for his legend and reverenced status.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2007
John Coltrane has a reputation as a fearless pusher at the boundaries of jazz, but he was also one of the great blues players in jazz. Hence it's not surprising that he released an entire album of blues compositions. In lesser hands, this could have turned into an exercise in monotony; but the six compositions on Coltrane Plays the Blues are wildly diverse, keeping things exciting the whole way through. He plays tenor sax on four tunes and his then-new soprano on two. McCoy Tyner sits out on a few tracks, leaving a piano-less trio of Coltrane, Steve Davis and Elvin Jones. "Blues to Elvin" is more traditional, and very "down home". "Blues to You" is the most avant-garde performance, a barebones trio performance that clearly anticipates "Chasin' the Trane" (from the 1961 Village Vanguard engagement). "Mr. Knight" has a theme similar to "India" (also from the Vanguard) though it doesn't maintain the same one-chord drone.
Overall this is a fantastic album. Any fan of Coltrane's other Atlantic albums should pick it up. This was one of three albums Coltrane recorded with his new quartet in October 1960 -- get all of them. (The other two were My Favorite Things and Coltrane's Sound.)
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2001
If you have the cash, of course, the best way to hear this is in the context of the whole - as part of the "Heavyweight Champion" Atlantic box set. Which, ideally, you would listen to after you listened to the Prestige box set and before you listen to the Impulse box set.
These tracks mostly come from a marathon recording session (October 24, 1960) when Trane was going through tons of material with his new band, including McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones. Much of the best of that material is on here. The music finds Coltrane playing interesting solos on top of interesting themes - structured, but earnestly looking for new sounds on top of the old ones. It's good stuff.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Until recently I had been hesitant to pickup Coltrane's Atlantic releases. Oh sure, I had Giant Steps and My Favorite things but I'd always been more interested in his Impulse releases, including the "difficult" offerings such as Mediations. I'm a musician, what can I say, musicians like to hear one another stretching the limits. Anyway, I came back to the Atlantic stuff by way of my impressive Miles Davis collection but that's a whole other story... see my other reviews if you are curious. At any rate, I'd started getting into Trane's early work with Miles' quintet and sextet and purchased the Fearless Leader box set (all of Trane's sides as a leader when signed to Prestige).
Fast Forward to recent weeks: Turns out this music, along with Coltrane's Sound, was recorded in Oct 1960, the Quartet's first recording date. All three releases, Favorite Things, Coltrane's Sound, and Coltrane Plays the Blues are ESSENTIAL. I've acquired all but 2 of the Atlantic releases. When I picked this up I expected, I don't know, maybe a solid 3.5 to 4 star release. I was very surprised at how strong and interesting these sides are. It has quickly become a favorite. The original release has Trane on soprano for 3 sides and tenor for the other 3 but then you get a bonus track that is also a soprano piece - and the bonus isn't just filler either!
Trane listeners will recognize the roots of the infamous Chasin' the Trane from the Village Vanguard sessions when Blues to You queues up. And as one other reviewer noted, the track Mr. Knight does sound like the genesis of India another piece from the Vanguard releases.
If you like Trane's early Impulse work Coltrane Plays The Blues is a must-have, you'll love it. The only thing missing really is Rudy Van Gelder's touch but this is still really great stuff.
A trivial matter: If memory serves me the tracks from this release were recorded during a marathon 3 day session that also brought us My Favorite Things and Coltrane's Sound.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2006
Coltrane's Classic Quartet originated with these sessions, which took place in just a couple of days in October 1960. He had discovered the drummer Elvin Jones and the pianist McCoy Tyner, and simultaneously he had been introduced to the miraculous discovery of modal jazz through working with Miles Davis.
"Coltrane Plays the Blues" collects together six blues tunes that showcase his new style, as well as showing off his soprano saxophone, which would become his signature instrument.
"Blues to Elvin" is a cool tune that should really be called "Blues to McCoy". A track that is enjoyable and well-balanced.
"Blues to Bechet" is Coltrane's tribute to Sidney Bechet, played on that ancient master's favourite instrument, the soprano saxophone. Sadly this tune is less dear to me, partly because of Coltrane's slightly hesitant soprano work (he stays in tune, but does not take advantage of the new horn as on "My Favorite Things") but also because this tune should not have followed "Blues to Elvin". It sounds too similar, and I would have put this tune well after.
"Blues to You" should sound oddly familiar to those who listen to Coltrane's Impulse records. This is a trio blues with McCoy dropping out, similar to "Chasin the Trane". In fact, this tune actually IS Chasin' the Trane. Or rather, it is the tune that is named as "Chasin' Another Trane" from the Village Vanguard box. Listen carefully to it! In fact, listen to the end of one of the alternate takes and you'll hear the opening theme of "Chasin' the Trane" itself! Coincidence? Or did Rudy von Gelder, who named the Vanguard takes, realise that this was an Atlantic tune and rename it on the sly?
At any rate, it is the tune that most clearly points the way to the future, the second alternate being quite ferocious.
"Mr Day" is the most famous tune on the disc, but also the least interesting, I feel.
"Mr Syms", named for Coltrane's barber, is a soprano sax piece of a jolly temper.
"Mr Knight", a prototype for yet another Vanguard performance (think "subcontinental") and a strange and unusual melody.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 2000
I remember wearing out side two of my old vinyl copy years ago. I still love the "Mr." tunes but I've grown to appreciate the "blues" Tunes more and more. Unfortunately, Elvin Jones was not "unleashed" until Trane began to record for impulse. I think I would enjoy this one more if Jones were playing a little more in his mature polyrythmic style. All in All, a very good set.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2011
Here is yet another record Atlantic culled from the same three days' worth of sessions which yielded My Favorite Things. October 21, 24 and 26, 1960 would ultimately give us upwards of 25 commercially released tracks.
Like all of the other albums released from these dates except the aforementioned My Favorite Things, Coltrane Plays The Blues was released after Coltrane had left Atlantic for Impulse. It is fair to argue that if opportunism was the motivation for the releases, there was no barrel scratching. The majority of these cuts were well worth making available.
The curating on this release in particular is quite impressive. Stylistically, the tracks fit very nicely and it is hard to imagine them being simply interchanged with those from the other albums resulting from these dates.
The period from 1959 - 1961 is one of Coltrane's most intriguing. It saw him break for good with Miles Davis, establish the initial incarnation of his own classic quartet, write some of his most interesting and enduring compositions and expand past the horizons of hard bop, going deep into a more modal, spiritual jazz - all while having some of his greatest commercial success.