A Roaring Hard-Bop Express
Those who knew John Coltrane (1926–1967) speak of him as a principled man who kept his word and tried—even through an extended addiction to heroin, which he finally conquered in the late '50s—to do the right thing. This incandescent set might be cited as proof. It came about when, in 1956, Coltrane paid a visit to the offices of Blue Note records looking for recordings by the soprano sax pioneer Sidney Bechet (it would be a few years before Coltrane him-self would pick up the soprano). While conversing with Alfred Lion, cofounder of the label, Coltrane agreed to record for Blue Note, and received a small advance. Then, in 1957, Coltrane signed with Prestige Records, and though Blue Note had apparently forgotten about the handshake deal, Coltrane hadn't. He honored the commitment with this album—recorded in a day—of electrifying originals and a mellow reading of Jerome Kern's "I'm Old Fashioned."
This is a jazz thrill not to be missed, with Coltrane and his cohorts sounding like they've been chasing hard-bop bliss together for years. Pivoting and shouting and shooting stingers out of his trumpet, the nineteen-year-old Lee Morgan makes the most of each stop-time phrase (there are many); after he grabs listeners on "Locomotion" or "Moment's Notice," he doesn't let go until he's dashed off a screaming, career-best solo. The same goes for trombonist Curtis Fuller, and pianist Kenny Drew, whose turn on "Lazy Bird" neatly summarizes the leader's harmonic ideas. And then there's Coltrane. He's not yet into the exhaustive (and exhausting) "sheets of sound" approach, but he's getting there; each of these improvisations has a touch of the beat-the-clock panic that would define such later works as Giant Steps.
Released: 1957, Blue Note
Key Tracks: "Moment's Notice," "Blue Train," "I'm Old Fashioned"
Catalog Choice: Coltrane's Sound; Coltrane Plays the Blues
Next Stop: Lee Morgan: Search for the New Land
After That: Miles Davis and John Coltrane: Live in Stockholm, 1960
Book Page: 182