Saturday, January 16, 2010

Giant Steps: Why It's Important

John Coltrane (sax; b. 1926 - d. 1967)
Giant Steps (Atlantic; 1960)

This month celebrates the 50th anniversary of John Coltrane's Giant Steps (Atlantic) album. Giant Steps was recorded only a few weeks after Coltrane had recorded Kind Of Blue with Miles Davis. Coltrane once mentioned in an interview that he wanted to play "a more lyrical and beautiful sound" and while he obviously and modestly didn't acknowledge it at the time, Giant Steps was the album where he found the lyrical voice for which he was searching.

The album features unbelievable quartet works with Tommy Flanagan, Wynton Kelly, Cedar Walton (piano), Jimmy Cobb, Lex Humphries, Art Taylor (Drums) and Paul Chambers (bass) running through seven numbers that would all become classics and benchmarks for future jazz generations to come. The sessions are also historic for the inclusion of the same line up that recorded Miles' Kind Of Blue (Kelly, Cobb and Chambers) on the lovely "Naima". The title track is a fast paced firecracker of a number that sets the tone for the whole affair. The album is a bold statement of intent that Coltrane had indeed arrived.

While his material for Prestige and Blue Note, Soultrane and Blue Train, respectfully are definite markers of his early dominance and potential, Giant Steps to me is the signpost that solidifies his status as the most important saxophone player of his generation. On the potent journey that is Giant Steps, Coltrane rips through harmonic scales at a dazzling pace as heard throughout the short but surefire "Countdown", and then moves lovingly into the wonderful piece "Spiral." Nearing the end of Giant Steps, Coltrane finally brings the proceedings to a calmer tone with the absolutely beautiful "Niama," named after his first wife, and is highlighted by the magnificent playing of the truly underrated Wynton Kelly on piano. The closing number, "Mr. P.C." is named after the only constant in the two quartet set up, bassist, Paul Chambers. It is a hard hitting and perfectly fitting way to end the session.

Giant Steps was the album that saw John Coltrane finally let loose and express the emotion, structure and complexity he had developed over the previous 15 years in his associations with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Red Garland. Of all the John Coltrane albums, Giant Steps arguably might be the one that universally says everything you need to know about the legendary musician. Along with Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue, Charles Mingus' Ah Um, Dave Brubecks' Time Out, Thelonious Monks' Brilliant Corners, John Coltane's Giant Steps is a must-have for any music fan. It is the document of a legend as well as a great jazz history lesson.

Below is a stellar version of "Naima" with one of Coltrane's later quartets featuring McCoy Tyner (piano), Gimmy Garrison (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums).

1 comment:

  1. There may be more celebrated Coltrane albums (A Love Supreme springs to mind), but Giant Steps will always be my favorite.