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John Coltrane and the Debate Over His Best

25 Apr

Every time I make the mistake of suggesting that one of John Coltrane’s albums is his best, no matter which album I choose, I am usually informed that I am crazy and I have no idea what I’m talking about. In fact, I don’t think that I’ve heard more debate over a particular artist or group and what their best album might be than Coltrane (with the exception perhaps being The Beatles).

If I suggest the best is Blue Train, I am told “no way, it is A Love Supreme“. If I spend the next two weeks listen to and analyzing A Love Supreme, and then concede that A Love Supreme is in fact the best, someone else tells me that the best is John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. You get the idea.

So which one is it? Rather than me offering my personal opinion on which album is Coltrane’s best, I will offer up a handful of albums by Coltrane, and ask you to decide with your responses and a poll. Which one do you think is Coltrane’s best?

Giant Steps

giant-steps1Highlighted by the title track and Naima, we get to hear Coltrane tear through this album with legendary improvisation. It is clear on this album the influence that working on Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue had on him.

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman

hartmanOne of two albums that Coltrane released following heavy early ’60’s criticism that Coltrane had gone off the jazz deep end. If there were still doubters that felt Coltrane couldn’t play music slowly and sweetly, this release should have done away with those doubts. Hartman’s voice is a wonderful pairing with Coltrane’s sax.

A Love Supreme

love-supremeThis album remains one of the best selling jazz albums of all time. It also remains Coltrane’s definitive spiritual release. It boasts one of the greatest rhythm sections of all time (McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones) playing at their finest.

Ballads

balladsThis was Coltrane’s first response to critics who said he couldn’t play, or had abandonded the slow, sweet stuff. Not only did he prove that he could, but he rose to be considered one of the best player of ballads in jazz history.

Blue Train

blue-trainWhile I might have said that  I wasn’t going to offer my opinion, I must say that Blue Train over the course of time has regularly risen to the top of my list. Maybe not as flashy as some of his other albums, but this one really connects with me, and as far as I am concerned, is the best Blue Note release ever (read up on my Top 10 Blue Note recordings here).

My Favorite Things

favorite-thingsMy Favorite Things strikes me as Giant Steps on steroids…and with a soprano sax. The songs and solos are longer and more complex, offering a wonderful intensity.

Let us know which album you think is best with your comments, and take our poll below.

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