By 1963, when LIVE AT BIRDLAND was recorded, the John Coltrane Quartet had evolved into the finest working band in all of jazz, achieving an extraordinary balance of freedom and form, visceral intensity and romantic sensitivity. Each member was an innovator in his own right. From McCoy Tyner's powerful orchestrations, to bassist Jimmy Garrison's indomitable pulse and Elvin Jones' telepathic polyrhythms, this was a thrilling group at a peak of wonder and discovery.
Jones' dancing 6/8 pulse and elemental barrage of tom and cymbal colors make the quartet sound like a big band on their exciting version of "Afro-Blue." Tyner's rocking two-handed rhythms and original chordal voicings bring the tune's melodic strains to a fine boil, when Trane re-enters with a screaming, rhythmically challenging solo. The saxophonist approaches "I Want To Talk About You" as a virtuoso ballad vehicle, and the contrast between dense rhythmic/harmonic ideas and simple melodic eloquence bring this performance to an earthy emotional peak. The dancing polyrhythms which announce "The Promise" suggest how far the quartet had reshaped the basic 4/4 rhythm of jazz. Tyner's left hand keeps the pulse churning, as he uncoils swift, graceful single-note leads and crunching block chords, transforming a pathetic nightclub piano into a choir of angels. Trane's soprano re-appears at an emotional crest, supporting him and Elvin with big, brassy chords that echo their conversation.
A pair of studio tracks round out the set. Tyner's droning chorus of tears and the beckoning thunder of Garrison and Jones give the dirge "Alabama" its elemental dignity. "Alabama" is a haunting recollection of four innocents who died in a church bombing, and the tender compassion and final cry for justice in Coltrane's evocative melody is easy to recognize. The set concludes with "Your Lady," an elegant idiomatic quartet treatment of a 3/4 pulse, as Trane discovers a softer, more feminine inflection for his soprano.
John Coltrane (soprano and tenor saxophones); McCoy Tyner (piano); Jimmy Garrison (bass); Elvin Jones (drums).
01 Afro Blue
02 I Want to Talk About You
03 The Promise
05 Your Lady
06 Vilia - (Bonus Track)