On an album of beautiful balladry, the closer, “Nancy (With the Laughing Face),” is the crème de la crème. It’s only three minutes long, and Coltrane solos through all of it. By no means is this a wild solo. Anyone could play these notes, but it’s hard to imagine them being played with as much feeling as Coltrane infuses. He’ll bend a note downward when you think the passage is over (listen to what he does at the 49-second mark), or he’ll add a few upturned notes onto a phrase (listen again at 1:03). He’ll rush ahead of the beat and then wait as it passes by and he falls behind. You hear the emotions he feels, and it sounds so perfect.
McCoy Tyner would eventually become one of the most powerful voices in piano jazz, but in 1962 there was no such pressure and certainly no such expectation. He was merely Coltrane’s pianist leading his own date. Tyner’s playing is typically meaty and dense on the burning title track of Inception
. Art Davis walks the bass speedily, and powerhouse drummer Elvin Jones gins up a storm of skins and cymbals. After his thick fingers traverse the expanse of keys, Tyner settles into the tune at the 2:20 mark, pounding out some fat chords that lead to a few drum breaks that culminate in a series of ascending chords and finally back to the series of descending chords around which the piece is constructed. Hard to believe all this happens in four minutes.
If you know someone who hates jazz, try an experiment. Secure a rope, tie that person to a chair (not too tight) and play "Lush Life" for them. Don’t forget your stopwatch to measure how quickly their expression dissolves from resentment to bliss. The folks at Guinness World Records keep track of such things. Cynics may dismiss this song about "jazz and cocktails" as make-out music, with more atmosphere than oxygen. But it boggles the mind that a youthful Strayhorn could write so profoundly, just as the mature Hartman's romantic baritone boggles the heart. (Hart-man indeed!) "Lush Life" is make-out music for the gods.
John Coltrane, artwork by Michael Symonds
One of the saddest instrumental ballads on record, “Lonnie’s Lament” was the 12-minute climax of John Coltrane’s gorgeous 1964 album Crescent
. Coltrane states the theme twice, his horn full of sorrow, as the rest of his quartet paints texture behind him. After the long introduction is done, Coltrane drops out as the rhythm section gets going, and it is pianist McCoy Tyner who takes the first real solo. Tyner improvises for several minutes, patiently building his solo, taking blocks away and reassembling then. Bassist Jimmy Garrison then takes a long, unaccompanied solo. Coltrane finally returns only to close the piece by restating the theme two more times. Never before had he said so much by playing so little.
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