John Coltrane - The Classic Quartet


The Classic Quartet Cover


John Coltrane (tenor sax, soprano sax)
McCoy Tyner (piano)
Jimmy Garrison, Art Davis (bass)
Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes (drums)

Recorded between May 1961 and August 1965

Disc 1: Greensleeves; It's Easy to Remember; Inch Worm; Big Nick; Out of This World; Soul Eyes; Miles' Mode; Tunji; Nancy (With the Laughing Face); What's New?; Up 'Gainst the Wall; Too Young to Go Steady; All or Nothing at All; I Wish I Knew

Disc 2: You Don't Know What Love Is; Say It (Over and Over Again); Vilia; After the Rain; Dear Old Stockholm; Your Lady; Alabama [Takes 4 & 5]; Lonnie's Lament; Drum Thing; Wise One.

Disc 3: Crescent; Bessie's Blues; A Love Supreme, Pt. 1: Acknowledgement; A Love Supreme, Pt. 2: Resolution; A Love Supreme, Pt. 3: Pursuance; A Love Supreme, Pt. 4: Psalm; Nature Boy [First Version]; Nature Boy; Feelin' Good; Chim Chim Cheree.

Disc 4: Brazilia; Song of Praise; After the Crescent; Dear Lord; One Down, One Up; Welcome; Last Blues

Disc 5: Transition; Suite: Pt. 1, Prayer and Meditation: Day/Pt. 2, Peace and After/Pt. 3.

Disc 6: Vigil; Dearly Beloved; Attaining; Sun Ship; Ascent; Amen.

Disc 7: Amen; Compassion; Joy; Consequences; Serenity; Joy [Second Version]

Disc 8: Alternate versions and alternate takes.


On arriving at Impulse! from Atlantic, John Coltrane was ready to take his music even further. From all the musicians he had worked with at Atlantic, he had assembled a core of musical talent that would emerge (as these recordings show) as one of the great jazz quartets of all time, ranking alongside the two great Miles Davis line-ups and remaining together for almost six years. In McCoy Tyner, Coltrane had found a pianist whose range and inventiveness was an ideal foil for his growing experimentalism and in Elvin Jones he had found a fierce and uncompromising drummer to join with Jimmy Garrison on bass and drive his music along in powerful new directions.

Not that John Coltrane was confined in this six year period before his death to the quartet structure alone. At the same time (and most times using Tyner, Garrison and Jones but augmenting the basic line up with other musical voices) he has developing a larger, more symphonic sound as a result of collaboration with Eric Dolphy (playing alto sax, flute or bass clarinet) and many others. This important music (which appears on excellent albums such as “The Complete Africa Brass Sessions”, “The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings” and “Ascension”) is another story that will have to wait for another day. What this album collection concentrates on so well is the music produced by the quartet - “The Classic Quartet”.

The music is presented chronologically so that it is possible almost for the first time to hear how the quartet develops over the period. Right at the heart of this music are sessions that would lead to two of the greatest jazz albums ever issued – “A Love Supreme” and “Crescent”.

So much has been written about “A Love Supreme”. It is an inspirational work, presented in the form of a classical suite, which captures perhaps better than any music of the twentieth century the range of emotions that come from transcending the routine corruption and injustice of every day life in favour of a new rationale, a new way of being. This is expressed by John Coltrane in religious terms as his rededication of his life to his God but ultimately going beyond this to stand as transcendance in itself, in some essential form that is more widely applicable to the human condition as a whole, to all of us. In simple terms, wherever you are coming from, this is a music that makes the case convincingly and personally that the world should be experienced outside of its normal drab convention.

Yet while “A Love Supreme” is the self aware masterpiece, so much more of the music of this quartet should given the highest accolade. “Miles Mode”, “Up ‘Gainst the Wall”, “After the Rain” and “Lonnie’s Lament” are potent jazz classics; “Alabama” (written in the aftermath of an incident in September 1963, when four young black girls were killed when white supremacists detonated dynamite inside a church in Alabama) is about as political as jazz can get; “Out of This World”, “Crescent” and “Brazilia” are inspirational in themselves while “Greensleeves, “Chim, Chim, Cheree” and “The Inch Worm” continue the quest announced in “My Favorite Things” to deconstruct the banal and reinvent it.

With its excellent documentation, “The Classic Quartet” is a very well placed focus on this great music.

Star rating: *****

Related reviews: John Coltrane "The Heavyweight Champion"     John Coltrane "Live At The Village Vanguard"  Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane "At Carnegie Hall"  John Coltrane "One Down One Up"

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The Classic Quartet - Complete Impulse! Studio Recordings (1998 Reissue) [Box Set]

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Other useful information on John Coltrane:

John Coltrane Complete Discography and Sessionography

John Coltrane - My Favorite Things

John Coltrane, Avant Garde Jazz,
and the Evolution of "My Favorite Things" by Scott Anderson

The Traneumentary:
Audio podcast interviewing jazz greats on their recollections of John Coltrane

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John Coltrane - The Traneumentary


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