John Coltrane “Giant Steps”

Ultra Fidelis’ Musical Favorites

coltrane_steps(Atlantic CD, Mobile Fidelity CD, Atlantic LP) 1959

Let me state for the record that, while I consider myself a big Coltrane fan, I love the early stuff and can’t really get into the later stuff. Oh I’ve tried and I continue to try every so often. But so far, my tiny little brain hasn’t been able to absorb what Trane was doin’ in the last four years of his life. So while I own almost all of his later recordings I don’t fully understand them musically- at least not yet. For those of you who do, Mazeltov! For me, after Giant Steps, everything starts going downhill. So if anyone reading this is a big Coltrane fan who really digs the impulse stuff after A Love Supreme, I’d love to hear from you. Maybe you can shed some light on recordings like Meditations and Interstellar Space, cause I want to believe that there is some music in there- even if it’s pretty well hidden. I’m even willing to do a little work, if necessary, to find it. How’s that for dedication?

Anyway, Giant Steps was Coltrane’s first (and for me, best) record for Atlantic and marked a major peak in his career. All of the songs are Coltrane originals, and virtually all have become accepted jazz standards. Even if you’re not a jazz fan, listen to the whole album several times through and you might find yourself whistling these tunes in the shower. The songs are catchy, full of hooks and very memorable, making this album quite accessible to just about anyone.

By 1959 Coltrane’s mastery of the horn was nearly complete, something that becomes obvious as you hear him pull off one perfect solo after another. If you have ever heard athletes refer to being in “The Zone, ” a place of heightened sense perception and focus where everything seems to be happening in slow motion, allowing them to perform at an almost super-human level (a regular occurrence for Michael Jordan, for example), Coltrane appears to have found “The Zone” on Giant Steps. Every track is a masterpiece, with not one note out of place. While Coltrane has been criticized for being prone to unnecessarily long solos that can make some feel like they are listening to a jazz marathon, you will find none of that here. This is as efficient as John Coltrane ever got, packing more nutrition and less fat into each song than at any other time in his career. The mood of the album is cheerful and uplifting. There is a kind of joyful exuberance present on many of these tracks, especially “Cousin Mary” and “Syeeda’s Song Flute” that would rarely reappear on any of Coltrane’s later recordings.

The sound quality, while not quite as good as some of the earlier recordings for Prestige or Blue Note, is not bad either. The best digital sound available is from Mobile Fidelity, who with their “Gain System” re-mastering process, manage to capture a bit more of the detail present on the original LP than does the standard Atlantic CD. But if you can’t get the MoFi, don’t worry. This album is so good you could enjoy it on 8-track tape. (Ok, maybe I’m stretching just a bit). I especially hope that you’ll try it if you’re not into jazz. If you don’t get into it on the first listen, don’t give up too fast, it needs to soak in a little. Play it a bunch of times while you drive or do something else and hopefully it will stick. If after ten plays you still don’t get it, go seek therapy, I can’t help you.

-Dave

 

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