John Coltrane - Afro Blue Impressions: CD Review

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There have been some great Jazz box-sets over the years, but the one I would like to see will probably never happen.  The box I have in mind would be a ten-CD set by John Coltrane (1926-1967), and titled My Favorite "My Favorite Things." That would be over ten hours of him playing his signature tune, which I think could easily be filled by all of the live versions he recorded over the years.

It would take a little research, and maybe fans could vote their choices, but I think it would be a very cool thing. Besides the nearly one-hour performance recorded in Japan in 1966, I would insist on the 21:07 version on Afro Blue Impressions, recorded in Berlin, November 2, 1963. That concert has just been reissued by Pablo Records as a two-CD set, and as one of the bonus tracks, they have added another "My Favorite Things" (13:57) for our listening pleasure. This "new" one was recorded on October 2, 1963 in Stockholm, and appears along with additonal takes of "Naima" and "I Want to Talk About You" here as well.

Pablo Records was formed in 1973 by the legendary producer Norman Granz. The original Afro Blue Impressions was a double-LP of the 1963 Berlin show, which was first released in 1977. The album takes its title from two of the tracks, "Afro Blue," and "Impressions." The band is 'Trane's classic quartet of himself on sax, McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass), and Elvin Jones (drums). Besides the tracks already mentioned, the nine-song set features "Lonnie's Lament," "Chasin' The Trane," "Cousin Mary," and "Spiritual."

When I first got into John Coltrane, I remember looking at the many versions of "My Favorite Things" on the various live albums, and wondering why. Obviously, I didn't get it. Every Coltrane performance was different, but especially so on that song. For rock people, I would compare it to the Grateful Dead and their "Dark Star." Why 'Trane picked this Rodgers and Hammerstein tune from The Sound of Music to become his concert staple is really beyond me. In a way, it seems perverse. But he obviously heard something in it, a format that could be easily expanded upon, endlessly.

It is one thing to contrast the 1966 take in Japan with the 1963 versions. In 1966, the band was a five piece, and took the song as far as it could really go. I find it hilarious that an "acid rock" classic such as "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" was once thought of by hippies as "extreme." They had no idea. But with the inclusion of the October tracks here, one can hear just how much 'Tranes band had changed their approach, just one month apart. The takes on "Naima" and "I Want to Talk About You" have minor differences, but with "My Favorite Things" the differences are striking.

As the press release states, "Afro Blue Impressions represents an anniversary within an anniversary." 40 years for the label, and 50 since these performances. Besides your humble  reviewer being born, it seems like a hell of a lot happened in 1963, as there are 50th anniversary celebrations galore going on this year. In the last ten years of his life, John Coltrane created music of such a powerful and adventurous nature, that we are still trying to work it all out. He was definitely at a peak on that European tour, and Afro Blue Impressions is an excellent document of it.