Review Summary: One of the highlights of Coltrane's modal jazz period.
Right from the outset, Olé Coltrane establishes itself as a continuation of the approach taken on its predecessor My Favorite Things. The modal jazz setting remains, the line-up is mostly the same, and Coltrane is playing soprano sax again. But the title track, a Coltrane original, is a different framework for the musicians to build on in terms of tone, with its strong Spanish influence. While Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain album recorded the year earlier could’ve been an influence, Davis and co opted for a more rigid orchestral setting which limits opportunity for group improvisation. Coltrane’s take is far more conducive to that.
He would often record within a conventional quartet in which he was the only horn player, but here he expands his group, adding a trumpet, a flautist and even a second bassist. The way the band accommodates the two bass players on Olé
is interesting and effective – one hammers out the distinct, simple, repetitive riff that establishes the Spanish theme on which the piece is built, while the other tinkers in a higher register, arguably operating free of pure rhythm section duties. The two co-exist without ever crowding each other out or cluttering the low end.
The soloing is fantastic throughout, as you’d expect from these musicians. Eric Dolphy’s contributions on the flute stand out very prominently, not just for the choice of instrument but also his distinct style and delivery. The instrumentation is more typical of jazz than on Dolphy’s most famous work, but the solo is brilliant in any case. Tyner is also wonderful, managing to thrive in this format as he did on My Favorite Things. His interplay with Elvin Jones is incredible. The title track is one of Coltrane’s greatest songs and is clearly the highlight of the record, spanning 18 captivating minutes. It’s intense, but in a radically different way to his work that would follow. Ole
casts a long shadow on the rest of the record, but Aisha
, written by McCoy Tyner, is another excellent song – the ballad of this set. People familiar with Coltrane's more famous, frenetic work can appreciate the restraint shown, particularly Jones' minimal brushwork on the kit.
Fans of My Favorite Things will find lots to like about this album. This, along with Africa/Brass from the same period, are good starting points for hearing Coltrane playing in a larger group than his typical quartet formation. Four short years later, he’d record in larger ensembles again, but by that stage his philosophy towards performance and composition had changed considerably and it bears little immediate resemblance to what he offers here. Olé Coltrane was his last recording for Atlantic Records, after which he'd record for Impulse for the remainder of his career - a label that would afford him tremendous freedom and faith that'd be reflected in his later work. It's an intriguing listen that further showcases Coltrane’s rapid development, and is worthy listening for fans of his work or modal jazz in general.