Song of the Day: John Coltrane “Afro Blue”
A highlight from his seminal Impulse Records LP, Live At Birdland, “Afro Blue” is the John Coltrane Quartet in full flight. Coltrane, along with drummer Elvin Jones, bassist Jimmy Garrison and pianist McCoy Tyner take what was a slinky, slightly exotic, percussive Mongo Santamaria penned Latin number and blow it up. The group are really able to stretch out on this live date. Coltrane‘s wailing soprano saxophone (almost sounding more like a Moroccan Pan Pipe here than a traditional saxophone tone) weaves intricate melodic lines, frequently intersecting with the piano. Coltrane and Tyner fully explore the melody of the tune, frequently coming back to the head and using it as a jumping off point for further riffing. Tyner‘s completeness as a pianist are never in any doubt here as he both comps, introducing further rhythmic and harmonic complexity, while also pealing off long melodic lines of his own. Jones meanwhile more than lives up to his reputation as one of the great powerhouse drummers: attacking his kit with purpose and turning in one of his career highlight performances.
The quartet had been playing together for a number of years and it shows. Their sense of group dynamics and active listening abilities were at their very peaks at this point. The group was able to turn on a dime, shifting from loud to quiet passages almost as if by ESP. While this live date was recorded in 1963, some 60+ years later, it remains some of the most exciting and vibrant jazz music ever recorded. Coltrane‘s group at this point was perfectly suited to his musical vision and was composed of some of the absolute best musicians of the era. Every time I put on this record, I’m left feeling in awe. This is wonderful, brilliant music. A true jazz tour de force.
The Mongo Santamaria original:
The John Coltrane Quartet tour de force: