Impulse buys for the fetishist
Heaven in a box-set awaits jazz buffs with the latest batch of re-mastered classics. Phil Johnson works himself into a lather
Friday 29 September 1995
These aren't just any old records, either. Men in white coats have laboured for years to decode the original master tapes into binary bits of information before, in an act of technological madness, putting them back into vinyl grooves. It's a judicious selection for the first of the new digital batch: Ballads, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, and A Love Supreme, from 1962, 1963 and 1964 respectively, and it's tempting to take a revisionist stance and say that, whatever the glories of the late masterworks that were to follow, Coltrane never sounded better than on Ballads, blowing his heart out on the deliciously corny "Too Young to Go Steady". Fetish value: 10; content: 9.
To make matters even more thrilling, Rhino Records (via WEA) has just released The Heavyweight Champion, a seven-CD set of the complete Coltrane Atlantic recordings, replete with copious alternate takes of "Naima" and "Giant Steps". For completist collectors and those of a train-spotting disposition, this is, indeed, heaven in a box. Though he was only with Atlantic for two and a bit years, this was the period that linked the gorgeous sigh of Miles Davis's Kind of Blue (on which Coltrane was a sideman) to the more heady exhalations of the Impulse years. Fetish value: 10; content: 8.
The son of Ornette Coleman's sax-blasting sideman Dewey, Joshua Redman is the latest contender to Coltrane's throne, and he's a full-throated but tastefully appointed tenor saxophonist who follows the great tradition without sounding mindlessly retro. He's given a good two hours to make his case on Spirit of the Moment (Warners), a double CD recorded live last March at New York's Village Vanguard, the jazz cathedral that provided the sacred setting for live albums by Coltrane and Sonny Rollins 30-odd years ago. Though perhaps not quite up to the majesty of Joe Henderson's two State of the Tenor albums of the Eighties, which were also recorded at the club, Redman acquits himself marvellously in a no-frills quartet, with a tough, risky style full of reedy braggadocio. Fetish value: 6; content: 7.
Redman's dad's employer, Ornette Coleman, is perhaps the only survivor of his heroic era to still play outside the mainstream, and Tone Dialling (Verve) is his first album since 1988. It's another Prime Time set, and this means a backing of mental guitars, with Coleman's alto sax weaving delicate art nouveau tracery over the top of constantly shifting foundations. His playing is as beautifully expressive as ever, and though there's a modish rap and some forays into Bach and boogie, it remains more or less wonderful throughout. Fetish value: 7 (enhanced by the groovy sleeve); content: 8.
The fetish-value of trumpeter Terence Blanchard's latest album, Romantic Defiance (Sony), is fairly minimal, but the music is masterful all the same. A tooting theme shared by the leader and Kenny Garrett's sax opens the appropriately titled "The Premise", before snapping rimshots, sliding double bass and tinkling piano hit the groove, announcing a retro, Miles- circa-1963 feel, which most listeners will greet as jazz heaven. Best listened to while wearing a narrow-lapelled suit. Fetish value: 3; content: 7.
With Chet Baker, we reach the point where the music more or less gives up the ghost to the fetish factor. Embraceable You (Pacific Jazz) is an album of unreleased recordings from 1957, when Chet was comfortably settled into the heroin addiction that would last for the rest of his life, and it sounds like it, too; this is music to nod off and burn yourself with a cigarette to. Backed by a Julie London-esque duo of guitar and double bass, Chet plays the little-boy-lost role to the max, singing in that inimitable, emotionally deadened, high tenor croon and playing plaintive trumpet as beautifully as he ever did. Fetish value: 10; content: 9.
Another blast from the past, Music for Loving (Verve), a two-CD reissue of Ben Webster's Fifties recordings with strings, just has to count as the smoochiest album ever made. The old Ellingtonian's breathy tenor sax gurgles away as if recorded in a bathyscape several fathoms down, the notes bubbling slowly to the surface from submarine depths on "Chelsea Bridge" or "My Funny Valentine". All you can do is swoon. It makes Songs for Swinging Lovers sound like The Sound of Music, and the fetishometer just has to hit its peak; dix points on both counts, and sticky moments guaranteed.
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