This is the Coltrane live-performance DVD we’ve all been waiting for. Not only does it include the late saxophonist’s famous 1961 German television appearance (in which the musicians play amidst a cool modernist steel-girder studio set), it also boasts ultra-rare footage of the Coltrane Quartet’s dynamic set at a 1965 outdoor jazz festival in Belgium, a time when Trane was really pushing the avant-garde envelope. As if that weren’t enough, this disc also presents a recently unearthed German TV broadcast from 1960, showing Coltrane playing with Miles Davis’ rhythm section, plus guest artists Oscar Peterson and Stan Getz. The DVD is sequenced chronologically, and thus opens with Coltrane in concert with the Davis group (sans Miles). It’s interesting to watch Coltrane holding himself back working within a more formal and less adventurous musical setting than the one he would soon adopt. He showcases his angular lyricism on several classic tunes included in the famous trumpeter’s repertoire, playing beautifully with Davis’ sidemen (Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb), but one can sense his impatience to break free of the group he’d been with for five years and hook up with more forward-thinking musicians. The 1961 TV performance finds him in the company of just such a group—pianist McCoy Tyner, drummer Elvin Jones, bassist Reggie Workman and alto saxophonist/flutist Eric Dolphy—as they burn through inspired renditions of “My Favorite Things,” “Every Time We Say Goodbye” and “Impressions.” As the camera darts around the expressionistic set, Coltrane and his hand picked musicians lay down the new musical language that was already shaking jazz’s foundations. After Dolphy left and Workman was replaced by Jimmy Garrison, Coltrane’s sound ascended to an even higher level of experimentation. Tyner’s natural lyricism helped balance Coltrane’s abstract excursions, while Garrison somehow kept the time and Jones laid down his own fierce polyrhythmic statements. However, this particular group was nearing the end of its run by the time of the Belgium gig—Tyner and Jones left some five months later. And Coltrane would give us just two more years of incredible music before prematurely leaving the planet, which makes these remarkable, rarely seen performances even more important historically and culturally.
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