My first review of a John Coltrane album. It’s a surprise even to me that I haven’t reviewed any albums by Coltrane up to this point. Either way this one is a absolute gem. It has all the elements you need in a jazz record. Great musicians, great solos, and original tunes that would later become standards. Thanks to John Coltrane’s amazing and complex progressions he raised the standard for all musicians. The musicians around him on Blue Train are impressive. Lee Morgan on trumpet! Kenny Drew on piano, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Philly Joe Jones on drums, and John Coltrane on tenor sax. The addition of Fuller adds a extra horn to the equation. Which in turn adds another layer of depth to the music. The combo involves everyone and truly gets the most out of the musicians.
The first song off this album is the title track “Blue train“. This track is just a good old fashioned blues. It starts with one horn and they just add the layers as they go through the melody. After the melody is played Coltrane breaks up the union and just goes off on his solo classic Coltrane and at this point in his career his virtuosity is near its height. There’s nothing he can’t do on the sax and he demonstrates this on each and every solo. Lee Morgan takes the next solo which is vastly different from Coltrane’s. He plays more in a laid back bluesy fashion. He adds intensity as his solo progresses and lets it build up. Fuller takes the next one and builds off of what Morgan did. Again a nice laid back blues solo only increasing in speed and volume where appropriate. Kenny Drew takes the last solo and is then followed by Paul Chambers who just takes a fantastic bass solo and then brings us smoothly back to the tune.
“Moment’s Notice” is next which is a uptempo tune moving at a much faster speed then “Blue Train”. The progressions is also more complex and the song has hits and breaks which can be a challenge to pull off. This group however has no problem with any of this and all transitions and breaks sound great. Coltrane solos first and performs flawlessly on this progressions. Not only does he played with speed, but more importantly he plays with accuracy making all the changes and utilizing the break to his advantage. Fuller solos next and wow what a great solo. Even as a jazz musician and writer I’m still not very use to trombone solos but I must say this instrument adds a nice change of pace from what my ears expect to hear. Morgan comes next which is a nice change of pace since the trumpet is generally a louder instrument than a trombone. Chambers takes a solo next again, going from low to high and high to low on instrumentation. Our pianist takes the final solo and we come back.
“Locomotion” is another Coltrane original and wow again fast paced, energetic, but never do the musicians sound like they are on edge. The music seems to flow seamlessly through their instruments. My favorite solo on this song has got to be Fuller’s. I never knew I had such an affinity for the trombone, but I suppose I do. He just plays nice and low and with great rhythmic variation. Which can be a challenge if a song is moving very fast.
Following “Locomotion” is the only non Coltrane composed tune on the record “I’m Old Fashioned”. This song was originally written by Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer. It’s a ballad which is a drastic different from the last two fast paced songs we’ve listened to. Simply put this is a beautiful tune. Lots of bebop verbiage used by the musicians during their solos. No one is pushing or rushing. The song is slow and they are leaving space.
Depending on the version you buy the next track is “Lazy Bird”. My version has two alternate takes of “Blue train and Lazy Bird”. I really love these two alternate takes so I recommend buying this newer version. Still you can not really go wrong with this album. Blue Train is a classic album and the scary part is I don’t even think it’s close to his best (more on that later). What made Coltrane great was a combination of the musicians he surrounded himself with, his great compositions, and his incredible soloing abilities. So do yourself a favor and buy this album. Heck buy any and everything Coltrane is on, he was a unique musician who never stopped pushing and testing not only himself, but tonality as a whole.