John Coltrane: Locomotion

Opening with a nice drum fill from Philly Joe Jones, this high-powered blues number should whet the appetite of any jazz aficionado. I think it's safe to say that Coltrane officially entered the top tier of jazz musicians on this album with his fluidity, sheer determination, and utter dominance of the tenor saxophone. The only way this could be further augmented was for him to surround himself with the top young jazz musicians of his time. Philly Joe Jones swings harder than a kindergarten kid on a playground, with a driving ride pattern that's further enhanced by the steadiness of Paul Chambers's bassline. Another wonderful feature on this album is the orchestration between Curtis Fuller, Lee Morgan and Coltrane, which adds some nice spice to this already satisfying gumbo.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments


John Coltrane: Blue Train

John Coltrane, artwork by Michael Symonds

John Coltrane was the most influential saxophonist to follow Charlie Parker. His work in the late 1950s served as a model for most aspiring (as well as many established) hard-bop tenorists. The up-tempo blues “Blue Train,” appearing on the only album Coltrane recorded for Blue Note, epitomizes the tenorist’s fully developed, pre-modal hard-bop approach. It displays his great intensity and features the dizzying scalar passages that came to be called “sheets of sound.” In their own improvisations, Coltrane’s stellar colleagues illustrate their instruments' roles in the hard-bop style.

November 30, 2007 · 0 comments


Jimmy Forrest: Night Train

In 2006, the Recording Academy inducted this track into its Grammy Hall of Fame as a Jazz Single, but only because they had no Stripper Songs category. Neither as corny as "A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody" nor as tacky as "Harlem Nocturne," Jimmy Forrest's "Night Train" generates more reverb than a steam locomotive thrusting through a long tunnel (nothing Freudian implied). We haven't heard such coarse, vulgar honking since the time Mother mistook exit road for onramp leaving a truck stop. (Mom drove long-haul freight.) If those rude truckers had seen her old strip-tease runway act, though, they'd have whistled a different tune—probably "Night Train." Whew!

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments


Louis Jordan: Choo Choo Ch'Boogie

A late-1930s jazz veteran, Louis Jordan scored a string of #1 hits from the early '40s through 1950 that broadened the crossover appeal of "race music" by merging swing and boogie woogie into jump blues. The locomotive shuffle of "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" typifies his populist formula. Humorous jive lyrics defuse what might otherwise be construed as lowlife ethnic stereotyping. Shuffle beat and simple riffing keep the music unchallenging—the opposite of bebop, a contemporaneous development that alienated dancers. Jordan acted the genial naïf, but his consistent success amidst America's wartime and postwar ferment betrayed uncommonly savvy showmanship.

November 18, 2007 · 0 comments


Johnny Hodges: Don't Sleep in the Subway

"Everybody knows Johnny Hodges," went Duke Ellington's standard introduction. By the mid-'60s, it was no longer true. Record-buying kids didn't know Ellington, much less Hodges. They did, however, fancy singer Petula Clark, who made this song a Top 5 hit in 1967. Verve Records missed Miss Clark, but prospered by merchandizing jazz masters Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery as trendy schlockmeisters. Alas, what worked for them did not work for Hodges, who sounds like a refugee from a halfway house, wandering dazed and disoriented in the subway, where, hounded by Hank Jones's clattering harpsichord, Johnny can't even catch some z's.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments


Oscar Peterson: Night Train

To these ears, this version of “Happy-Go-Lucky Local” – or “Night Train,” whatever you want to call it – is the finest thing Oscar Peterson ever immortalized on vinyl. The midtempo boogie is a dream of a jazz trio performance. It swings, it’s got a great melody, and the musicians play with understated elegance. Peterson wrests some heartfelt blues expressions out of the piano, and his glissandos make you want to shout. Ray Brown – the consummate sideman – walks the bass up and down, while Ed Thigpen swings lightly on the drums. The interplay is seamless; these guys play like one brain controlling six arms. Go ahead and try to find a smoother ride from a trio than “Night Train.”

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments


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