There’s only one place to start this post: with a plea of Guilty as charged. I thought I was familiar with all of the great albums by John Coltrane up to the time that I assumed that he forsook beautiful and comprehensible playing for the outer limits exemplified by the likes of Interstellar Space, an album that I struggle with.
I was wrong. To my ears, Crescent should be ranked amongst Coltrane’s finest releases. Many tag this as Coltrane’s darkest and most sombre set. I prefer to think of it as the product of an artist going through a contemplative and reflective period of composition and recording. Entirely overshadowed by his next release, A Love Supreme, Crescent should be better known and far more celebrated than is currently the case.
The opening number which gives the set its title starts out with Coltrane laying down his theme in ballad form. Then the rhythm section and piano come in and Coltrane starts an improvisation that is at first leisurely but which grows in complexity. McCoy Tyner’s subtle and melodic boundaries are matched by Garrison and Elvin Jones and Coltrane’s freer and more phonic playing is contained within a structure that keeps things entirely, in my opinion, intelligible. Take a listen courtesy of YouTube:-
To play, touch or click on the arrow.
Wise One is one of the great Coltrane ballads. It is reflective rather than joyous and none the worse for that- some would say it is spiritual. Again Tyner is superb. I’ve long been familiar with this performance as it features on the excellent Gentle Side of John Coltrane compilation, which I also wholeheartedly recommend.
Bessie’s Blues is a short hard bop excursion, which hits the spot in a straight-ahead 4/4 style.
Lonnie’s Lament offers sophisticated listening, perhaps best heard at the end of a day when the listener is open to reap the rich rewards of a track which is evocative of whatever deeper thoughts one wants to evoke but which does not strike me as a sad lament (perhaps You may perceive it as such though). Garrison gets a good opportunity to show his talent on a lengthy bass solo that he plucks from heart and soul.
Drum Thing doesn’t surprise as it contains a fine drum solo from the great Elvin Jones. Coltrane’s contribution sounds very Northern European and, to my way of hearing, would not be out of place on an ECM release (which, to clarify, I consider to be a very good thing, though in moderation).
There is a belief that at Coltrane may have written about his intentions and subject matter for some of these compositions and others, including Alabama, in prose or poetry but any evidence of this remains missing, perhaps lost for ever. The tunes themselves are strong enough, alone, to stand the tests of time.
So there we have it. Crescent is a brilliant album that you should not miss. Coltrane plays wonderfully on a set where his great quartet are at the height of their powers and all members receive time and space to solo impressively. I can’t recommend this set too highly.
The band etc: John Coltrane (tenor saxophone); McCoy Tyner (piano); Elvin Jones (drums); Jimmyy Garrison (bass). Produced: Bob Thiele. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs. 27 April & 1 June 1964. Cover Design: Freddie Paloma. Cover Photography: Charles Stewart. Released: 1964. Original release: Impulse AS-66.