Afro Blue Impressions (180g 2-LP)
The recordings that make up Afro Blue Impressions were acquired by jazz impresario/auteur Norman Granz during the tours he produced for many jazz artists during the 1960s, though they weren't issued until 1973. Recorded at shows in Berlin and Stockholm, the John Coltrane Quartet -- with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones -- is in tremendous form here, using a familiar repertoire in order to expand upon the group's own building blocks in creating the new post-harmonic system that the saxophonist was developing.
This is evident almost immediately in the first few minutes of opening number "Lonnie's Lament," where Coltrane begins reaching with his arpeggios to notes that aren't even on the horn in his frenetic solo and his duet with Jones. That said, there is enough of the quartet's own engagement with the tune's original architecture to satisfy all but the most conservative of Coltrane listeners. The brilliant razor-sharp focus on restraint and lyricism applied in "Naima" reveals Tyner utilizing numerous subtly shaded chord voicings to prod Coltrane's tender lyric exploration of the melody.
Of course, the 21-minute version of "My Favorite Things" points directly at the territories the quartet would explore on the forthcoming albums Crescent and A Love Supreme and, in its most adventurous moments, somewhere beyond them. Tyner's arpeggios and ostinatos are sharp and fleet here, responding to Jones' driving snare and cymbals. Coltrane's soprano moves between blues, Dorian modes, and even Eastern scalar articulations in his solo.
"Afro Blue" is a rhythm collision, where mode gives way to some of Trane's most angular soprano playing, pushing the limits of the instrument and his own dexterity to near breaking points. As the two long set-closers -- "Spiritual" and "Impressions" -- reveal, the group was not yet finished with more formal structures.