John Coltrane Sextet:
John Coltrane - tenor saxophone
Lee Morgan - trumpet
Curtis Fuller - trombone
Kenny Drew - piano
Paul Chambers - bass
"Philly" Joe Jones - drums
"Blue Train", released in 1957, was John Coltrane's first attempt on making it as the leader and composer of his own group. He had started out working with Dizzy Gillespie in big bands and smaller groups on alto saxophone, the first sax that he learned how to play. He also played clarinet among other instruments. His first "big break" was when he asked to join Miles Davis' "first quintet". His work on Davis' albums "Milestones", "'Round About Midnight", and, most famously, "Kind of Blue" showed that he was becoming a virtuoso on his tenor sax and creating his signature playing style that was later called "sheets of sound" by jazz critic Ira Gitler. This first outing with Coltrane as a frontman included Miles' bassist and occasional drummer. This album is also unique in that a trombone is used, a rarity in jazz of this nature. Here is the track-by-track review.
1) Blue Train - Let's face it, everyone who knows at least a little bit about jazz knows the opening to this song. It's an established classic. Every instrument gets it moment to shine. Lee Morgan's trumpet in particular is spectacular in addition to 'Trane's solo. He undeniably put together a group of great musicians playing great material. 5/5
2) Moment's Notice - This song has a lot of great interplay between all of the instruments. You can just tell from listening that they are completely complementing each other. Coltrane's intro shows off his incredible tone and his solo shows his ability to master his instrument. The name of the song comes from the situation in which it was recorded. The story was that Coltrane wrote and recorded this song in a matter of an hour. Despite the lack of ease of playing up-tempo jazz pieces on trombone, Curtis Fuller covers the entire range of his horn and shows that the trombone is just as versatile and can groove just as hard as any other horn. Morgan's trumpet is also dominant again and Jones always keeps perfect time like a metronome while adding tasteful phrases to add color to the songs. Chambers also shows his soloing skills with a bowed bass solo. Kenny Drew's piano isn't shabby either. : ) 5/5
3) Locomotion - This fast-paced blues-based tune comes in with the thunder of Philly Joe's drums and leads to the full band stating the main theme. Coltrane also lends some cool phrases at the V chord of the I-IV-V progression. This fast-paced tune is what Coltrane plays best on, starting out with the sometimes 300 or 400 beat per minute bebop compositions of Dizzy Gillespie. His solo on this song is a slower, more melodic version of his earth-shattering song "Countdown" from "Giant Steps". Everyone shines on this track. 5/5
4) I'm Old Fashioned - This is the only cover track from Coltrane's solo debut album. This ballad was composed by Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer, but Coltrane proves that he can play beautifully on ballads such as this and make it his own just as much as any fast bebop tune. 5/5
5) Lazy Bird - Another awesome song turned jazz classic. This one starts out with the piano. Morgan and Fuller are wonderful on their solos in this song. The responses from the entire band are reminiscent of "Moment's Notice". Jones keeps it swinging to keep you grooving and tapping your feet the whole time. 4.9/5
Summary - "Blue Train" is the best thing that could have possibly come out of Coltrane's first attempt at leading and composing his own group. His later works such as "Giant Steps" and "A Love Supreme" may be well-known, but this album is on the same scale if not greater considering his inexperience as a leader and a composer. Its influence on jazz is extraordinary. This band's and this album's sound is different from most of jazz and revolutionary and the title track is commonly used as an audition piece. Highly recommended for anyone who even remotely likes jazz. I give this album a huge 5 stars.
To read more into John Coltrane, please check out my review of "A Love Supreme".