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John Coltrane 

Live Trane: The European Tours (Pablo)

Bebop trumpeter Art Farmer contended that concerts are showcases for the tried and true. Clubs, Farmer insisted, are where the "research and development" -- the searching and the unpredictable -- takes place. On Live Trane, a new seven-disc box culled from two European tours (November of 1961 and 1963), saxophonist John Coltrane and his bands both crush and reinforce that notion. The last certifiable jazz monolith and his classic quartet -- pianist McCoy Tyner, bassists Reggie Workman ('61) and Jimmy Garrison ('63), and drummer Elvin Jones (augmented by alto saxophonist Eric Dolphy for the first tour) -- burned as though tomorrow might never come.

Indeed, most of Live Trane's 36 tracks (19 of which were previously unreleased, making this collection a major issue) are played with the conviction that a major breakthrough will be achieved at the end of the piece. Hence, LeRoi Jones dubbed Trane "the hired assassin of bebop." Coltrane was probing for new possibilities, through chords, modes, and just plain sound. Dolphy proves a righteous foil, and his individual imprint (angular alto, lyrical flute) can be heard in Coltrane. The physicality of Coltrane's playing here is gargantuan, and the band plays against him as much as it does with him. When the equally physical Jones duets with Coltrane, the rhythmic results are wildly exhilarating. Tyner gets a "good soldier" award for his endless vamps on "Favorite Things," but elsewhere displays his singularly original conception. Seldom has a band worked at such a consistently transcendent level.

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