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The Paris Concert
John Coltrane
Paris Concert

1. MR. P.C.
(John Coltrane)
Jowcol Music/BMI

(Frank Loesser)
Frank Music Corp. / ASCAP

(Cole Porter)
Chappel & Co., Inc./ASCAP

The next forkful of the jazz pie is never quite what one expects.

This set of performance recordings, taken from a radio broadcast of a Paris concert by the John Coltrane Quartet either from 1961 or, as seems more likely, 1962, presents an apt example of that proposition. On the surface, the album would seem to be a straightforward reexamination of three selections already recorded by Coltrane. Mr. P.C., named for the redoubtable bassist Paul Chambers, was recorded initially in May, 1959, with Coltrane and a rhythm section consisting of Tommy Flanagan on piano, Chambers, and drummer Art Taylor (Giant Steps, Atlantic). Inch Worm, Frank Loesser's tune written for the Danny Kaye film Hans Christian Andersen, was played by the quartet heard here in a recording made in April, 1962 (Coltrane, Impulse). And the standard Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye was made in October, 1960, by an almost identical quartet, in which the only change was the substitution of bassist Steve Davis for Jimmy Garrison.

The logical assumption is that the flavor couldn't and wouldn't have changed much in so short a time. Besides, this is the "classic" Coltrane Quartet, and no serious listener could have any illusions about the sound of such a well-documented band. But those assumptions are as fatuous and inaccurate as they sound.

By the early sixties, John Coltrane was far past his journeyman days. He'd already been tempered by a lengthy period of working and recording both as sideman and leader, beginning in the late forties. He'd undergone two long stays with the Miles Davis band, first in 1955-57 and again in 1958-60. Between the two, he had established himself, along with Sonny Rollins, as the saxophonist to listen to, study, emulate. Even the critics who weren't yet ready to add his name to the Coleman Hawkins - Lester Young - Charlie Parker pantheon of fundamental shapers of the saxophone tradition had stopped accusing him of "anti-jazz" activities. He had recorded his only encounter on disc with Rollins (the single cut Tenor Madness, available on several Prestige albums) in May, 1956. His notable stay at New York's Five Spot with the quartet of Thelonious Monk took place in the summer of 1957. His Giant Steps, recorded in May, 1959, and My Favorite Things, from October, 1960 (both for Atlantic, in albums of those titles) were already attracting wide attention.

As he began to find work as a leader, Coltrane faced the problem of putting together a working band, since most of his recording up to that time had been done with his cohorts in the Davis band and the New York crew of jazz recording regulars most easily identified as the "Prestige / Blue Note/ Riverside All-Stars." By early 1961, a performance recording from Birdland (Roulette) had him in a quartet setting with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Steve Davis, and drummer Billy Higgins. Tyner, who had played with Coltrane as a teenager in Philadelphia, had come out of Philly in 1959, and in less than a year, after a stay with the newly-formed Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet, had become Trane's regular pianist. Although Coltrane was still playing and recording with Miles as late as March, 1961 (in the band which also included Hank Mobley, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb), by May of that year he undertook a pair of recordings with an ensemble consisting of himself and Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, the two bassists Reggie Workman and Art Davis, and drummer Elvin Jones, with the addition of a large horn ensemble (their explorations can be traced on Atlantic's Ole and the two Africa Brass albums on Impulse).

Elvin, youngest of the remarkable Pontiac, Michigan, Jones brothers, had left Detroit for New York in 1956, and, starting with a stay in the Bud Powell trio had begun to establish himself as a major new drummer, with an approach quite remarkably different from that of the fashionable Philly Joe Jones. Like Tyner, once connected to the Coltrane orbit, he stayed put. The core elements of The Quartet were lining up.

Looking back almost two decades, it seems obvious now that the beginning of the sixties was a time in which major changes of a fundamental nature were coming together in jazz. The traditions of bebop, certainly the most demanding of American musics, had been stretched and extended to the point that a number of the more exploratory young players found themselves at a stage of musical development in which the bebop tradition alone began to be severally dominated by Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, and the Kaleidoscopically changing Coltrane. (The immense shadow of Charles Mingus moved in its own path, much as that of Thelonious Monk had done during the seminal days of bebop's development, perhaps too commandingly personal to offer open-ended developmental possibilities to younger players, although this hardly seemed the case at the time. The question of the relationship between Sun Ra and John Coltrane, or more particularly between his saxophonists, especially John Gilmore, and Coltrane is worthy of far more searching exploration than I am equipped to give it here, and certain interesting, if speculative, possibilities must be left open.)

Cecil Taylor, whose only recorded connection with Coltrane had been an October, 1958, album (United Artists), also involving Kenny Dorham, Chuck Israels, and Louis Hayes, by 1961 was recording powerful and influential music, although not always under his own name (for the Candid label, Buell Neidlinger was leader, and his Impulse recordings were issued without explanation under Gil Evans' name).

Ornette Coleman, who emerged from Los Angeles in 1958 (his first major recordings were for Contemporary), recorded the powerfully influential Free Jazz album (Atlantic) in December, 1960, featuring Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, and Scott LaFaro along with his regular associated Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins, and Eddie Blackwell. The cross-connections were tightened in June, 1960, when Coltrane recorded as co-leader with Don Cherry (The Avant-Garde, Atlantic), with Haden, Blackwell, and Percy Heath; and Coleman, in March, 1961 (Ornette on Tenor, Atlantic), with Cherry, Blackwell, and Jimmy Garrison, the young bassist who had come to New York from Philadelphia in 1958, and was working and beginning to record with Philly Joe Jones.

Eric Dolphy had become friendly with Coltrane in Los Angeles in the early mid-fifties. By 1960 he was working and recording regularly with his own bands, featuring various combinations of Freddie Hubbard, Jaki Byard, Ron Carter, Roy Haynes, George Duvivier, and Booker Little, and was himself an explosively stimulating sideman with Mingus, Oliver Nelson, Ken McIntyre, George Russell, and the Third Stream experimenters. He joined Coltrane for a cross-country American tour in the fall of 1961, culminating in the influential in-performance recordings made at The Village Vanguard in November of that year (Impulse), after which the band, featuring the two saxophonists, toured Europe for a month. Coltrane's bassist at the time was Reggie Workman, but Jimmy Garrison entered the band as part of a two-bass team with Workman at The Vanguard, and soon became the regular bassist. In March, 1962, Dolphy left Coltrane to lead his own group (by the summer of that year, he recorded an important series of performances at The Five Spot with Booker little for Prestige), and the Coltrane Quartet was an entity.

From the end of 1961 until well into 1965, the Quartet - John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones - was the sole context in which the saxophonist's music could be heard. (The only exceptions are a quartet date with Duke Ellington in which Garrison and Jones alternated with Duke's bassist and drummer, Aaron Bell and Sam Woodyard, in September, 1962; a date in March, 1963, which added singer Johnny Hartman to the Quartet; and the occasional substitution of Roy Haynes for Jones, all of the foregoing for Impulse.) It was apparent that the continuously exploratory Coltrane had no further need, for the time being, to search for players more capable of responding to his needs, The instrument was formed.

Still, at the time of these recordings, the Quartet was a new band; but there was no way to deny that it was a remarkably powerful one. The word "energy" had not become commonplace when used in reference to the music, but every member of the Quartet was notable for that property in his playing. These were players exhilarated by their own powers, and obviously overjoyed by the force they could generate as an ensemble. If the fineness and awesome responsiveness of the same Quartet which was to make A Love Supreme in December, 1964 (the first point at which Coltrane was to consider augmenting or changing the Quartet format - he attempted to record the suite again with a sextet, adding Archie Shepp on tenor and Art Davis as second bassist on the day following the Quartet recording, but selected the original version; amazingly, those sextet tapes have still never been found!), had not yet been achieved, the new band was obviously capable of delighting itself with being able to play its music in a completely unique way. If they were still straining the mere conservative ears of the critical establishment, they knew, and had already made apparent to a growing body of players, not all of them younger or less established, that the path The Quartet was following was to be a most fruitful one for the American musical mainstream.

As no jewel lacks sufficient facets when examined under a changing light, any performance by so remarkably gifted a team of interactive players continues to dazzle and delight under the scrutiny of repeated listening. Neither the anticipation of the flavor, the color we expect, nor our readiness to experience what we see as though it were a known quantity prepares us for its surprises. And the surprise is always there. There's no way to hear Coltrane's music the same way a second time.

Liner Notes: Ed Michel

Cover photo by Roberto Polillo
Layout & Design: Norman Granz/Sheldon Marks

© 1979 Pablo Records
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