Recorded on September 15, 1957, John Coltrane‘s Blue Train is an album revered, cherished, and loved by many… and there are others who cannot quite see what all the fuss is about. I am firmly in the former camp. Granted, some controversy surrounds the recording and critics argue that both Lee Morgan and Curtis Fuller have done much better work elsewhere. Yet such judgements seem overly harsh; this is, after all, a Coltrane album.
Nonetheless, Billboard’s review of Blue Train was positive: “A provocative item in the hard, modern idiom, most notable for tenor-ist Coltrane’s arresting solo continuity. Obviously moved by vibrant, creative rhythm playing – Paul Chambers, (Philly) Joe Jones, Kenny Drew – trumpeter Lee Morgan and trombonist Curtis Fuller also turn in top performances.”
Perhaps some of that is due to Kenny Drew, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones already having played together on an album the pianist recorded for Riverside Records? It’s hard to say. Either way, in truth, for the title track alone – and its value is virtually doubled by the addition of a “Moment’s Notice” – this record is a masterpiece. So familiar is “Blue Train” that it feels like a theme to some long-forgotten TV series or the soundtrack of an atmospheric movie. It is everything that makes jazz so affecting.
The debate surrounding the album centers on “Blue Train.” On the original album release, the piano solo from take eight is spliced into the following take from the same September 1957 session to create what we have come to accept as Coltrane’s masterpiece. A later reissue has both the complete take eight and the composite version, much to Van Gelder’s annoyance, who considered such tape-splicing “desecration.”
Along with the four Coltrane originals on the album, there is a beautiful reading of the Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer standard, “I’m Old Fashioned” that is unapologetically sentimental and among Coltrane’s finest ballads. All in all, the album is one of Coltrane’s best and well worth a listen.