What does it sound like?:
I approached this 10-disc box set with some caution – cheapo re-issues being a bit hit and miss, not least as regards information about the recordings. However I need not have worried. While these recordings have been around in some form or another for a while, French label Le Chant Du Monde have done an excellent job of collating and annotating what they say are all the known recordings of the 1962 European tour by Coltrane’s quartet (McCoy Tyner, piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass;Elvin Jones, drums; John Coltrane, soprano & tenor sax). They are presented in a (cd-sized) hardback book, with the discs in fan-out paper sleeves and the comprehensive booklet in the middle. Nice.
There are 8 shows (not all complete) and the long tracks means that they aren’t always presented linearly – however all the information is in the sleeve notes.
The sound quality is variable – there are a couple of boxy, splashy gigs in there – but generally very listenable. The odd drop-out and truncated number.
And the music? Feck me, it’s marvellous. The whole quartet get a chance to solo and do so to great effect – and to a much more appreciative audience than the recent 1960 recordings. The repertoire is limited to 11 numbers, some of which appear more than others. But that’s not the point of course because every performance is different, given the opportunities to stretch out and improvise. What can I say? I’m not going to try to describe this music in words – it would sound trite to those familiar with it and leave those unfamiliar none the wiser – it just makes my heart sing.
What does it all *mean*?
It answers the question, are 7 versions of My Favourite Things too many? And the answer is no. I think my favourite is probably the version from Paris 17/11/62 (23’59), which the sleeve notes helpfully point out is the subject of controversy – it may actually be from another Paris gig on 1/11/63. The latter wouldn’t surprise me, as it does seem like a progression from the others.
Is this set a good starting point for Coltrane beginners? Well, it’s a lot of music for £16.99 from HMV. If you feel up to some intense solo-ing, then go for it, I say.
If you’re already an aficionado, then it’s a good opportunity to get a quality presentation of these recordings at a reasonable price.
Goes well with…
Waiting for Both Directions At Once. Lying on the couch on a Sunday afternoon.
Might suit people who like…
Fabulous, exciting music made live by a tight group improvising on the hoof around familiar themes, with Saint John Coltrane himself at the centre.