John Coltrane: Harmonique
John Coltrane (tenor sax)
Coltrane Jazz (Atlantic CD 1354)
Composed by John Coltrane.
Recorded: New York, December 2, 1959
Rating: 95/100 (learn more)
It's unlikely that anyone has ever described John Coltrane's music as "overly academic." It has too much blood-&-guts passion for anyone to ever make that call. But Coltrane was an inveterate experimentalist, and as such was inclined to write tunes or create contexts that tested certain specific aspects of his technique. "Giant Steps," based on the pattern of extraordinarily difficult chord changes that consumed Trane in the late '50s, is probably the most famous instance of this. The lesser-known "Harmonique" is another.
The melody of the altered 6/8 blues in Bb features Coltrane's use of multiphonics—a technique by which he produced several notes at once by manipulating his embouchure and using alternate fingerings. It's something he used a great deal in his avant-garde phase, albeit in a raw, less contrived form. Here he makes a refined use of the method, producing overtones over low Bb and B natural (C and Db on tenor) to suggest a chord. It's use here is interesting from a historical perspective, if not terribly consequential from an artistic standpoint. More compelling is Trane's solo—another in the series of wonderful blues improvisations that, with each passing year, became more brain-meltingly soulful. "Harmonique" lies somewhere between "Trane's Slo Blues" from Lush Life and "Chasin' the Trane" from Live at the Village Vanguard: it's neither as straight-ahead as the former nor as "out" as the latter. By any definition, though, it is a masterful accomplishment, with or without the multiphonics.
Reviewer: Chris Kelsey