John COLTRANE – Blue Train 1957

John COLTRANE – Blue Train 1957
BNST 1577

Jazz

With 1957’s BLUE TRAIN, John Coltrane not only firmly established his own voice on the tenor saxophone, but also proved his abilities as a bandleader and composer. The musicians on BLUE TRAIN, hand-picked by Coltrane himself, play superbly, not only as individuals, but also as a cohesive unit–a rare occurence in an era where “all-star” ensembles would come together for one session, then disband just as quickly. Nineteen-year-old trumpeter Lee Morgan spins bop lines in a warm tone, belying his age with his extraordinary playing, while drummer Philly Joe Jones and bassist Paul Chambers keep BLUE TRAIN running with impressive agility.

Two of Coltrane’s compositions here, “Moment’s Notice” and “Lazy Bird,” contain the seeds of harmonic exploration to be found in his later work. At this stage of his career, Trane was still occupied with blowing over increasingly challenging chord changes. His unique tone could be warm and sweet or sharp and insistent, but is always amazingly expressive. Throughout this revered album, Coltrane packs more emotion into one phrase than most arists are capable of in a whole tune.
**
Blue Train is a hard bop jazz album by John Coltrane, recorded on September 15, 1957, at the Van Gelder Studio. It is considered Coltrane’s first solo album, as it is the first he recorded featuring musicians and songs entirely of his choosing. All of the compositions were written by Coltrane, except “I’m Old Fashioned”, a Jerome Kern/Johnny Mercer standard. The title track is a long, rhythmically variegated blues with a brooding minor theme that gradually shifts to major during Coltrane’s first chorus. “Locomotion” is also a blues riff tune, in thirty-two-bar form. The album was his only recording for Blue Note Records (catalogue number BST 81577).

Coltrane’s next major album—1959’s Giant Steps—would break new melodic and harmonic ground in jazz, whereas Blue Train adheres to the hard bop style of the era. Two of its songs—”Moment’s Notice” and “Lazy Bird”—demonstrate Coltrane’s first recorded use of Coltrane changes, which he would later expand upon on Giant Steps.
**
John Coltrane was a monster of the tenor sax as early as 1955, when he first joined Miles Davis’ band. An overachiever, Coltrane had a relentless and unvarying passion for practice, for improving his skills as an artist. As he progressed through his quite legendary career, he never ceased to amaze.
BLUE TRAIN (1957) is a classic; an album often heralded as one of the greatest records of the 1950s by fans and jazz educators alike. It gives the listener a very clear view of what made these musicians so great. You will notice things like Coltrane’s (and pianist Kenny Drew’s) tasteful and masterful usage of the blues scale in the chant-like title cut. Many musicians have the tendency to drive that scale into the ground when playing the blues. Not so here: these guys were well beyond that sort of thing. On Jerome Kern’s “I’m Old Fashioned,” you will hear Coltrane’s (or was it Kenny Drew’s?) ascending-stepwise reharmonization. The Lee Morgan and Curtis Fuller solos on “Locomotion” are a delight, but that’s true of the entire album.

It is well known that the Coltrane composition “Giant Steps” (released in 1959) is a bear to play, to improvise on the changes. But, even here, Coltrane was writing tunes that could shake a few people up. “Moment’s Notice” is one such tune. It has an ABAC structure (8 bars, 8 bars, 8 bars, 14 bars: a total of 38 bars for one time through)–hard enough to follow–along with a barrage of formidable chord changes. Some say the song got its name when Curtis Fuller asked, “You expect me to play these changes at a moment’s notice?”

BLUE TRAIN is certainly deserving of being hailed as a “classic,” a term grossly overused these days. Imagination or creativity doesn’t always come in the form of extreme busyness, and if you give this album your full attention, it will offer riches galore. There is good reason why BLUE TRAIN is listed on many a jazz educator’s essential recordings list: It IS essential. (Seeing that this reissue gives you all the bonus extras for just a few bucks more, I can’t see going for the earlier one.)
By Murray TheCat.
**
Is “Blue Train” my favorite John Coltrane album? No, it isn’t. Is it still a classic? You bet. Here is a record that captures the essence of cool and exudes style and grace so effortlessly, the music almost seems to float on air. John and his band give nothing less than 100% throughout this album, and their superb playing helped shape up what is now known as probably the most familiar jazz record that isn’t performed by Miles Davis. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to this album, but having recently gotten the newly packaged edition, I’ve reintroduced myself to a “Blue Train” that actually improves over the original recording. For one, the remastered version presents the album the way it was meant to be heard: clean and crisp. The incredible title track and “Locomotion” benefit most from the remastering, and Coltrane’s sax playing is even more commanding this time around. Also, we get alternative versions of 2 tracks: the better of the two is “Blue Train.” On this version, Coltrane’s playing differs quite significantly, but it works just as well. In addition, the disc has an enhanced portion for your PC where you can listen to retrospective interviews from engineer Rudy Van Gelder, as well as a brief black-and-white video where Coltrane is performing with Miles Davis onstage. So if you’re new to Coltrane and are unsure which version of “Blue Train” to get, this baby is the one to pick up. The remastering provides a better sound, you get two bonus tracks, and there’s a decent handful of extras to view/listen on your computer. “Blue Train” still holds up as a classic, and its remastering and repackaging are well deserved.
By The Groove.
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Piano- Kenny Drew
Tenor Sax- John Coltrane
Trombone- Curtis Fuller
Trumpet- Lee Morgan
Bass- Paul Chambers
Drums- Joe Jones
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A1. Blue Train  10:41
A2. Moment’s Notice  9:09
B1. Locomotion  7:13
B2. I’m Old Fashioned  7:57
B3. Lazy Bird  7:05
**

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