The amazing thing about the Classic Quartet is that even after recording A Love Supreme, one of the greatest and most influential records of all time, they could still go right back into the studio and blow everyone away again, in a completely different way. This disc has some very pleasant surprises.
"Chim Chim Cheree" is a tune from the movie Mary Poppins. How many people could take a song from a Disney movie and put an avant-jazz edge on it? Simply brilliant. It's done in 3/4 with Coltrane on soprano.
To make the set even better, Art Davis is added as a second bass player on "Feelin' Good" and the studio versions of "Nature Boy." Davis had been a member of Coltrane's early group in 1961, but he left soon afterward (I'm not sure exactly when). He still appeared at occasional studio sessions, including the Ascension date and the alternate versions of "Acknowledgement" from A Love Supreme. In my opinion, he is one of the most overlooked and underrated bass players in jazz. His voice on his instrument is entirely individual and singular.
"Brazilia" dates back to 1961 Village Vanguard and is given a new workout here with a few minor adjustments. Great interplay between Coltrane and Elvin. However, the really unique pieces here are "Nature Boy" and "Song Of Praise." It may not be obvious at first, but "Nature Boy" is in 5/4 time (after the out-of-time intro), which is interesting because the song was not originally written in 5/4. In fact, the song began as a latin-flavored ballad, but what Coltrane does with it is purely ingenious. Both the originally released version and the live version of the tune swing hard, but the one that really caught my attention was the alternate studio take. I don't know why they didn't use this version as the master. Elvin uses mallets instead of sticks, the piano becomes entirely percussive, and the second bass (Davis) becomes a lead instrument along with Coltrane, while Garrison keeps the whole thing together with a seemingly floating line that continues almost through the entire tune. The groove is so hypnotic and amazing.
"Song Of Praise" is my favorite track of the album. By 1963, Coltrane had redefined the meaning of a ballad and turned it inside out. His unique ballad style can be traced back to 1963's "After The Rain." This is a good early example of how Coltrane seemed to enjoy playing ballads in free time, without rhythm. However, it soon evolved past ballads, and the free tunes became an integral part of his repertoire. By 1966, everything was done freely. He was constantly developing this writing style; some key links are "Alabama," "Psalm" (the pinnacle, in my opinion), and after this recording, "Dearly Beloved" and most of the Meditations Suite. "Song Of Praise" begins the way many of the group's pieces did-with an a cappela bass solo from Jimmy Garrison. His double stops and surprisingly structured modal changes are a perfect introduction for the rest of the tune. Coltrane comes in with a prayer-like invocation (similar to his earlier free ballads) before launching into a spiritually deep solo, propelled by Elvin's rumbling rolls and McCoy Tyner's supportive harmony. The group had recorded this tune in 1963, but the tape was lost. Doubtless, by 1965 it had changed a great deal.
This is a classic album, like any other Coltrane record. If you enjoy his work from this time period, you'll love this. Feel it.