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Gentle Side of John Coltrane
In the early '60s, John Coltrane was pressing the expressive edge of jazz, playing solos of daunting length, astonishing speed, and blistering intensity. But while his more exploratory work fueled controversy, the saxophonist had also matured into one of the finest practitioners of the jazz ballad, as great a lyric player as Ben Webster or Miles Davis and possessing a beautiful sound, a kind of unknown precious metal that remains distinctive after decades of imitation. He often included ballads in LPs of more daunting material, and he also devoted three LPs to his gentler side, Ballads and collaborations with singer Johnny Hartman and Duke Ellington. This CD compiles both Coltrane's versions of standards and a selection of his own gentler compositions, creating a series of slower-tempo masterpieces that range from the serene to the pensive. As well as highlights from those three LPs, there is also the superb rendition of Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes," a jazz standard, and Coltrane's own "Wise One," "After the Rain," and the somber "Alabama," melodies of almost unearthly beauty. The version of Billy Eckstine's "I Want to Talk About You," taken from a live recording at Birdland, possesses an unaccompanied tenor cadenza that stands as one of the most remarkable technical feats in jazz history. The version of "In a Sentimental Mood," with Ellington at the piano, is simply as beautiful as any recording ever made. So good is the selection that dedicated Coltrane fans who own the material in other forms may want to acquire it.--Stuart Broomer
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