John Coltrane, Ballads
Something I’ve carried over from my Miles studies, no doubt, is the habit of measuring a jazzman by his facility and strength with ballads, standards, and slow tunes. It’s the basic premise of musical modesty: the master returning to the simplest, most familiar songs to display economy, soul, superior statement and technique; or rather, musical wisdom. The master at home in all formats as well as being a radical technician and explorer elsewhere.
So I was looking forward to this album lot. AMG
hints at commercial/audience interests being a possible motive for this album, coming off the relative hard exploration and demanding work of Giant Steps
, say, which ain’t quite Ascension
yet. The record company gunned for an inoffensive crowd pleaser without sheets of sound or squawking horns. Coltrane rises to the challenge by not sounding chafed or restrained – there’s quite a few of his hallmark fills and contained runs on the tenor’s middle range. There’s no soprano here – though my personal mix includes the awesome simplicity and sweetness of Central Park West
which one could call a ballad of sorts though I’d much rather call it melodic wisdom in its purest form – one of the humblest, most humanly sufficient tracks ever recorded.
The only gripe with this album I can muster — though the band is excellent and the recording, song choice and laid-back late-night mood are all impeccable, it’s that Coltrane as solo horn sounds a little lonely – I’d think he’d be better accompanied here by another horn, trombone, trumpet for a completer band sound, instead of having only the steady piano response of McCoy Tyner. Maybe it’s a subtle lack of sparring or dialogue, or occasional, repetitive hanging on a dependent note of the solo – I just thought a quintet might be more to the point. Maybe Dolphy, a Curtis Fuller or Freddie Hubbard. This probably goes against the sanctity of his ‘classic’ quartet, and that entails for Coltrane purists, which I am certainly not. But it’s a pleasant album nonetheless.