June 5, 2016

John Coltrane - Olé Coltrane (1961)

Olé is John Coltrane's final recording for Atlantic Records, though Coltrane Jazz and Plays The Blues were released later the same year. The Atlantic period was Coltrane's cocooning stage in his ascent to greatest of all time. He started out with none of his famous Impulse backing band and ended on the verge of recruiting bassist Jimmy Garrison. While he was going through all of that, he learned a great deal about where he was and where he wanted to be on a musical and spiritual level. After a friendly hard bop session with vibraphonist Milt Jackson, Coltrane floored the world with cutting edge compositions and refreshed playing skills on Giant Steps and My Favorite Things. Next, it was time to show he was ready to move on to a new thing.

Olé is quite the goodbye to Atlantic records and was an epic way to keep writers and audiences biting their nails for what was to come on Creed Taylor's (and soon to be Bob Thiele's) jazz label experiment, Impulse Records. Olé's second half features tamer pieces more in line with the articulate and progressive bop style Coltrane played for his other Atlantic albums. While those recordings could serve as some saxophonists magnum opuses, they wouldn't be much better than leftover Coltrane Plays The Blues or Coltrane Jazz tracks if it weren't for Eric Dolphy's invigorating appearances. Side A, the feature presentation, is the precursor to the classic Impulse quartet's dilated spirit jams. It is the blueprint for the sprawling modal forays found on Concert In Japan, Live At Birdland, Impressions, Coltrane 1962, both Village Vanguard sets, A Love Supreme, Om... well, everything he played after leaving Atlantic Records. Pianist McCoy Tyner and Coltrane got on the same wavelength through Tyner's major-minor chord patterns on My Favorite Things, so they follow the same formula to much success on Olé. Elvin Jones is as exciting as ever on drums; like Coltrane, he plays with virtually no calculated use of negative space. On my first few listens I was left wondering "how in the world did he keep that up for 18 minutes?", but I now realize that he would play with that power for hour long pieces in the live performances--absolutely amazing. Olé is also one of Coltrane's first explorations with a two bass band, something that, probably because of this record, became more popular in post-bop and avant-garde jazz in the years following (Anthony Williams' Life Time and Andrew Hill's Smokestack are notable multi-bases albums to come next). The two bass action doesn't seem forced at all and adds even more emotion to this music. And of course I need to mention this might be Eric Dolphy's most memorable flute performance besides Gazzelloni and Five Spot Volume 2. Coltrane only solos for around five minutes at the end of the piece, but wow does he blow shit out of the water. Seriously, he could have probably gone soprano saxophone spearfishing playing like this. Olé doesn't usually rank as one of Coltrane's top albums because of the relaxed B side, but the first piece is a stimulating listen that is very accessible because of how well the warm and breezy Mediterranean theme is communicated. I think it serves as a great introduction for people wanting to learn more about his music.


Ole Coltrane