One aspect of Coltrane's work, apparent here, is just beginning to be noticed. He is one of our most lyrical musicians, but it is not a standard form of lyricism-it does not gush and does not cloy-and that quality went unnoticed for a long time when the discussions of his work were primarily concerned with the technical innovations he was making. While Ornette Coleman, in whose playing John is extremely interested, has been concerned with more freedom from what has been termed 'the chord barrier,' Coltrane was pushing to the ultimate harmonic limit. As Cannonball Adderley put it in Jazz Review, 'Coltrane knows more about chords than anyone. John knows exactly what he's doing; he's gone into the melodic aspects of chords. He may go ‘out of the chord,' so-called, but not out of the pattern he's got in his mind.'
That insistence on implicit harmonic effect, coupled with his rhythmic innovations ('I found'
, Coltrane wrote in Down Beat, 'there were a certain number of chord progressions to play in a given time, and sometimes what I played didn't work out in eighth notes, 16th notes, or triplets. I had to put the notes in uneven groups like fives and sevens to get them all in'
) resulted in the so-called 'sheets of sound' that for a time, blinded people to anything else he was doing.
But there can be no doubting the lyricism of a performance like 'I See Your Face Before Me'. That, and 'If There Is Someone Lovelier than You', are both songs much more closely associated with Frank Sinatra than with the standard jazz repertoire (although Miles Davis has recorded 'Face' beautifully on Prestige 7007, The Musings of Miles). Coltrane, however, is one of those valuable musicians, who never feel constricted by what is generally thought to be acceptable, and, as usual, he validates his choices. This is, to my knowledge, the first jazz recording of 'Someone', made more unusual by the medium tempo.
Only one of the four tracks on this set is what is usually thought of as a jazz piece. That is Jackie McLean's 'Little Melonae'. Prior to this, it was recorded and played primarily by the group of musicians most closely associated with McLean. It probably suggested itself to John for recording because of its unusual harmonic and rhythmic implications. The last track, 'Rise ‘n' Shine', is perhaps the most unexpected. A Hollywood flag-waver type of piece, John rescues it here from what had seemed to be an interminable purgatory in which it served, because of its title, as the theme song for early-morning small-town disc jockey shows. It is hard to avoid making the obvious remark that this performance would probably wake anyone up much quicker than the dozens of others.
The rhythm section here has appeared on several Prestige recordings as the Garland Trio, and both Garland and bassist Paul Chambers were co-members with Coltrane of the Miles Davis quintet. Drummer Arthur Taylor also worked with Davis for a while. So the highly necessary community of purpose necessary to a successful recording was already there as an element to be used, rather than a needed quality to be strived for.
It seems pointless, in a case like this, to go into lyrical annotator's puffs and shout 'This is the best record John Coltrane has ever made!' or something of the sort. Certainly, portions of it are as good as anything he has ever done, and all of it is an excellent example of one of the most productive periods in the career of one of the few undeniably important figures in contemporary jazz.
Joe Goldberg (from original album notes)