BLACK MUSIC MONTH SPOTLIGHT: John Coltrane, OLÉ COLTRANE
It's safe to say that John Coltrane was in a transitional period when he recorded the Ole Coltrane album. The LP was recorded over a single session in May 1961 just two days after the pioneering saxophonist had laid down tracks for Africa/Brass, his first release on the Impulse! label. He still owed Atlantic another album, so Coltrane simply hit the studio with his working quintet at the time--Eric Dolphy, McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman and Elvin Jones--augmented with the addition of Freddie Hubbard and Art Davis, both of whom had just performed on the Africa/Brass LP.
Given the close proximity of the two releases, some similar Africa/Brass themes and motifs seeped onto Ole Coltrane, including the epic 18-minute title track. The outfit explore the boundaries of the tune, trading inspired solos throughout. Having a full album side to make one musical statement served Coltrane perfectly, as he revealed during a May 1961 interview. Having recently split from Miles Davis' band, he was asked about the "freedom" of being the only horn player in his own outfit.
"Well, it's the thing I like because I like to play long. I don't feel it too much," Coltrane explained. "The only thing is I feel there might be a need now to have more musical statements going on in the band and I might need another horn. We went into the Apollo and the guy says, 'Man, you play too long, you got to play twenty minutes.' So now sometimes we play a song and I get up and play a solo maybe 30 minutes, or at least 20 minutes, we can look forward to a song being no less than twenty minutes long. How we going to do this? And, man, we ended up the third time we did it playing three songs in twenty minutes and I played all the highlights of the solos that I had been playing in hours in that length of time. So I think about it, what have I been doing all this time? What the heck have I been doing? It has made me think, if I'm going to take an hour to say something I can say in 10 minutes, maybe I'd better say it in 10 minutes, and then have another horn there and get something else."