John Coltrane: Aisha
John Coltrane (tenor sax)
Olé Coltrane (Atlantic 1373)
Composed by McCoy Tyner.
Recorded: New York, May 25,1961
Rating: 99/100 (learn more)
In this haunting McCoy Tyner ballad, one of the surprisingly few that Coltrane ever recorded, we find him in his transitional period. He is moving from the Atlantic label to the new Impulse label, where he will realize unprecedented freedom to play in his extended modality. On this, his final Atlantic recording, he has an unusual lineup that includes the young and mercurial Freddie Hubbard – borrowed from Blue Note and playing some of his finest trumpet – and an incognito Eric Dolphy on fiery alto, under the mysterious pseudonym of George Lane. This provides Coltrane with two additional voices to punctuate any musical statement he cares to make, along with a solid rhythm team of bassist Reggie Workman and an unusually subtle Elvin Jones on drums. The probing, always searching Coltrane is uncharacteristically subdued, his moaning tenor lead setting up the memorable melody for a scant two minutes before yielding to Hubbard's solo. Freddie for his part can barely restrain himself, starting out slowly and gradually bursting into a soon-to-be-patented Hubbard flurry of notes with unleashed passion. An equally provocative alto solo from the sometimes jagged Dolphy shows a beautiful and lyrical side to his playing that is quite moving and perfectly in keeping with the piece. Composer/pianist Tyner then moves center stage, laying out the melody in a flutter of exquisitely executed runs that never fail to surprise.
When Coltrane returns to repeat the melody line, his restraint is admirable for a man who is quoted in the liner notes as saying, "I like to play long…" He seems to be following his instincts here, deferring to an inner awareness that, in the company of other voices with something equally intriguing and original to say, he doesn't have to say it all by himself. On this occasion, his instinct serves him well. His fellow musicians are allowed to shine and create a mood that is both sinuously sensuous and honestly heartfelt. Coltrane's lyrical mastery and his uncanny ability to evoke the sound of human longing from his horn capture the essence of this song in a tight and extraordinarily economical way. A subtle masterpiece!
Reviewer: Ralph A. Miriello