The Jazz Rag Album Reviews

September Reviews

JOHN COLTRANE

GIANT STEPS (DELUXE EDITION)

Atlantic R2625106 2 CDs 37.22/40.02

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Released sixty years ago last January, and given a nice anniversary revamp by Warner Music Group, Giant Steps is an album no true jazz fan can ignore. This new 2-CD edition tells its whole story too, right from the rejected early stabs at the title track and Naima (with the young Cedar Walton on piano) through to a scholarly reappraisal by noted Coltrane authority Ashley Kahn, which takes in the opinions of several generations of saxophonists impacted by the album, from veteran Archie Shepp to new noise Shabaka Hutchings.

Some see the album as the end game of bebop, Giant Steps itself signalling the ultimate destination for time/changes playing. Others look at it as the beginning of Coltrane blossoming into his own true self – a manifesto of his contemporary wares, as it were.

A couple of truths are universally agreed upon. The first, that this was the start of albums that truly had Coltrane’s ‘sound’ (as Ben Ratliff had it in his book Coltrane: The Story of A Sound). There was a band of his own choosing, all the compositions are his, and the record label, unlike his previous affiliation Prestige, actively worked with the artist to make the whole a package. The second is that on this album all the harmonic wonders the tenorist had shoehorned into countless conventional blowing sessions at last sat within a bespoke framework.

The end result is a record not only of immense import to jazz history, it’s also one of the best programmed, most consistently enjoyable and enduringly engaging of all Coltrane’s albums. It wasn’t his debut LP, of course, and yet in many ways it plays as if it might be.

The sound (and it’s been beautifully remastered too) really does capture a moment: that of Coltrane seizing his, and how. Add in a whole disc’s worth of alternative takes and some fetching period memorabilia and you have a winner of a reissue.

If you’ve never heard it before – or even if you have – don’t ignore this new incarnation.

How I envy those encountering it for the first time.

SIMON SPILLETT

CALLUM AU / CLAIRE MARTIN

SONGS AND STORIES

Stunt Records STUCD 20062 46.35

Martin needs little introduction here.  She’s an award-winning UK vocalist, at ease singing jazz with small groups or soaring over an ensemble.

What she had yet to do, until this marvelous opportunity came along, was to record with a big band. More to the point perhaps, not only to record with a big band but also with a full orchestra.

That all of this has been accomplished via the arranging miracle that is Callum Au is even more noteworthy. Callum is a freelance trombonist, schooled in NYJO for seven years – he joined when he was fifteen – and a regular with every kind of big band ever since, notably those fronted by Peter Long at Ronnie Scott’s and beyond. What those outside that circle might have not realized until now is that he is an arranger of peerless quality, as adept at punching out a big band backing for Martin as he is giving her the lushest of string-based backgrounds.

Pure Imagination sets the mood so ably, a brass chorale preceding Martin’s entry, sotto voce over minimal rhythm, the orchestral backdrop subtle as Freddie Gavita’s sublime trumpet rides over the strings. Let’s Get Lost follows, taken as an up-tempo romp with Riddle-like big band bravura and is the perfect contrast, Martin at her best, guest US trombonist Andy Martin [no relation] contributing an improvisation of glorious quality.

If that were not enough, local trombone star Andy Wood comes in with a fine solo too on I Get Along, Martin handling the lyric with the kind of yearning intensity that serves it well.

I’m tempted to focus most on the quality of the solos which adorn these songs, but then again, it’s Martin’s singing that deserves the plaudits. Or should it just be the writing for both the orchestra and the big band?

Take Cole Porter’s  I Should Concentrate on You, with a quite delicious repeated orchestral motif, Martin tumultuous and a peach of tenor solo from Nadim Teimoori or You and the Night with high note trumpet from Ryan Quigley over a Latin beat.

So many delights; eleven tracks, 82 musicians, all up on their toes. A triumph for all concerned.

PETER VACHER