Review Summary: A unique recording for Coltrane before a stylistic shift.
Crescent holds the distinction of being the final recording before a sizable shift in approach to composing for Coltrane. Slightly under-appreciated and completely overshadowed by the notoriety of the album to immediately follow, but still well acclaimed in its own right, the album holds some of his finest ballads in Lonnie’s Lament
and Wise One
- beautifully performed originals, particularly the former. They’re also notable for being some of his final ballads before he radically changed his approach to writing and playing them, as evidenced on the fascinating, more free-form styles of songs such as Psalm
and Dearly Beloved
from later albums. Structurally, the songs here are far more typical of a post-bop composition than what would follow. So they make for interesting listening even as a means of comparison.
The line-up was well and truly settled by this point and the interplay is faultless – McCoy Tyner’s piano work is a highlight, particularly on the ballads with Coltrane’s spare, spaced melodies giving him plenty of time and room to shine. His playing contrasts with the aggressive style he's known for but is perfect for this setting. Elvin Jones is given free rein on The Drum Thing
– at that point pretty much an oddity in Coltrane’s catalogue, which somewhat foreshadows a later record he did with Rashied Ali consisting purely of drums and saxophone. The piano sitting out creates an odd, empty, anxious vibe and fittingly this is the most obviously intense cut courtesy of Jones’ drum solo.
Elsewhere, the dark tone is maintained with the title track, which would be expanded upon when played live. The record doesn’t follow the song suite approach he favours on other milestone albums. There lies the biggest point of contention - the record’s flow. Bessie’s Blues
is a brief, enjoyable, bright blues song which arrives smack dab in the middle of the album, surrounded by darker, down tempo, moody tracks. The sequencing is really the only sore point and it’s difficult to see where it could’ve fit in any case.
Crescent lacks the explosive energy of so much of his other celebrated work, but that’s simply a way to distinguish it from those records – not a stick to beat it with. It has a mood all of its own – calming and uneasy all at once. It’s one of Coltrane’s more accessible recordings from this period, a step below his best work but not drastically, a great night-time listen, and one of the most beautiful from a vast, varied, fascinating body of work.