Extra Tracks, Remastered
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Audio CD, Original recording remastered, Extra tracks, October 25, 1990
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Trane's adventurous 1960 release, the first to feature solely his own compositions. Remastered from the original tapes, this landmark of modern jazz is further enhanced with 4 alternate takes. Includes the title track; Cousin Mary; Countdown; Spiral; Syeeda's Flute Song; Naima , and Mr. P.C .
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For the more technically minded, Trane's revision of dominant-tonic harmony is more impressive than his later embracing of modes as the sole platform for his scales and upper register probings. Suggested by the challenging bridge of Rodgers and Hart's "Have You Met Miss Jones," the sequence moves through a cycle of descending major thirds which, in the hands of most musicians, feels awkward and unnatural. Coltrane not only mastered the sequence but learned how to use it as a substitution in conventional harmonic settings. More impressively, he learned to execute it with an agility and naturalness that makes it possible for the listener to ignore the harmonic underpinning entirely and be swept up by the wave of emotion and melodic inventiveness.
"Giant Steps" is the main reason Sonny Rollins temporarily stopped playing in public. To his credit he came up with his own solution to the tyrannous sameness of much pop song harmony, but he was never able to come to terms with the harmonic complexity and technical innovations introduced by Coltrane. On the other hand, few have.
for years -- a misunderstanding which, I hasten to add, in NO way diminishes the brilliance and stature of this pivotal milestone in Coltrane's prolific career.
The problem is this: over the years, repeated references (and you'll find some of them in these reviews) to this classic album's being the ultimate representation of Coltrane's famous
'sheets of sound' phase, or technique, are simply mistaken. The so-called 'sheets of sound' effect that so startled early Coltrane audiences, in fact, emerged in his late '50s albums for Prestige -- not yet fully developed in the '56-'57 sides with the early Miles Davis Quintet (not even on that groundbreaking group's final recording, Miles' first for Columbia, 'ROUND ABOUT MIDNIGHT), but very well documented, even dominating, in Coltrane's prolific late '57-'58 period on Prestige, where the best examples of his 'sheets of sound' are to be found.
Technically, 'Trane's much-touted 'sheets of sound' amounted to his simply (!) shifting into a 'higher gear', at slow-to-medium-fast tempos -- essentially, playing more 16th notes (i.e., 4 notes to every beat), instead of relying on the more typical
8th-note orientation (i.e., 2 notes to each beat) of most modern jazz solos from early be-bop onward. Coltrane's solos during this period often used this technique to the point of letting those rapid-fire, 16th-note runs dominate his playing -- giving rise to the description, 'sheets of sound', or, sometimes, the more pejorative (and unjust) charge from critics that he was just 'running scales'. Upon even cursory examination, Coltrane's solos on GIANT STEPS, on the contrary -- despite the prevalence of furious tempos (which should not be confused with how many notes PER BEAT are being played!) -- actually do NOT contain a preponderance of the notorious 16th-note passages. In fact, the relatively spare use of his well-established, '4-to-the-beat' phrases on this 1960 classic might be viewed as one of the more 'unexpected' aspects of this landmark entry in the great Coltrane legacy. His wonderfully agile, complex, and justly famous solos on such pieces as the title track, and even the demonically paced 'Countdown', in fact, consist of predominantly 8th notes; and, while the fast tempos, themselves, of course, may dictate a rapid torrent of notes, they still mostly come at 'only' 2 to the beat -- not the daunting 4 per beat that really define the 'sheets of sound' effect. It may be suggested that the generally fast tempos on GIANT STEPS are largely responsible for the relative absence of 16th-note runs throughout the album (as a practical limitation, even for Coltrane!); yet, it also is true that even the more moderately paced pieces -- normally more conducive to 'sheets of sound' flights -- are relatively free of that effect, compared to Coltrane's previous work on Prestige.
At this album's date, the intense, multi-noted, and profoundly influential explorations that would largely define Coltrane's approach, even to the end, were yet to be applied in still other musical contexts, as this jazz giant's expansive music evolved from the 'interim' Atlantic years into the final, long Impulse! period of cutting-edge experimentation. The initial shock of those earlier 'sheets of sound' would dissipate, and seem 'tame' by comparison -- or, perhaps, just 'inevitable' building blocks in the larger scheme of things ... and the legend would only grow.
Addendum: i wrote the above review in regard to a particular reissue that had a grey cover with the a small picture of the original cover in the corner. I've just purchased another copy; this one with 15 tracks and the entire original cover. It doesn't have the same sound problems described above. It sounds a bit better than my old copy but not drastically so. It is nice getting the bonus tracks added to the end of the original tracks
so one does not have to listen to many versions of the same song one after another.