John Coltrane: Afro Blue
John Coltrane (soprano sax)
Afro Blue Impressions (Pablo Live 2620-101)
Composed by Mongo Santamaria.
Recorded: West Berlin, November 2, 1963
Rating: 100/100 (learn more)
The stories vary about how and why John Coltrane decided to begin playing the soprano. Most accounts give Steve Lacy at least some credit, which makes sense, in that when it came to the soprano in modern jazz, Lacy was the only game in town in the late '50s and early '60s. However, Coltrane didn’t mimic Lacy any more than Lacy mimicked his first inspiration, Sidney Bechet. Indeed, Coltrane didn't even mimic himself, but instead developed a soprano style distinct from his tenor style. Coltrane had first recorded on the soprano in June 1960, and his breakthrough performance on the instrument—"My Favorite Things"—came later that year, but he'd clearly reached a new level on the horn by the time this was made. The Afro Blue Impressions version of "Afro Blue" follows the more famous Live at Birdland version by about a month, and it's arguably as good if not better. At their best (which was pretty much every time they took the bandstand), Trane and his rhythm section were like a hurricane wrestling an earthquake. They generate that kind of power here. On soprano, Coltrane's chops were astounding, of course, but it’s the song-like nature of his playing—especially in the horn's upper register—that is particularly affecting. This is Coltrane at the height of his powers as a soprano saxophonist, and it reveals an amalgam of originality and spirit that's seldom been matched, let alone surpassed.
Reviewer: Chris Kelsey