Red Garland and John Coltrane in a Rare Session

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DIG IT! / PARKER: Billie’s Bounce. KAHN-CAESAR-MEYER: Crazy Rhythm*. HEATH: C.T.A. GARLAND: Lazy Mae / The Red Garland Quintet with John Coltrane: Donald Byrd, tpt; John Coltrane, t-sax; Red Garland, pn; George Joyner, *Paul Chambers, bs; Arthur Taylor, dm / Prestige OJCCD-392-2

At the time this record was made, both Garland and Coltrane were members of the Miles Davis Quintet but they also enjoyed doing jam sessions like this one in the studio. One of the more interesting aspects of this session is that Coltrane is evidently trying to fit in and not overwhelm the others in the group, but years of evolving his style and playing with Thelonious Monk had expanded his musical vocabulary so widely that it was virtually impossible for him not to dominate.

Despite there being only four tunes on this session, there are three different recording dates. CTA was recorded on March 22, 1957; Billie’s Bounce and Lazy Mae on December 13, 1957; and Crazy Rhythm, on which Paul Chambers plays bass, on February 2, 1958. Thus this “simple” album took nearly a year to get in the can! One of the more interesting features is that the last number recorded, Crazy Rhythm, is played only by the rhythm section, thus it was just the Red Garland Trio at this point.

In contrast to the kind of music they were playing with the Miles Davis band, this is a pretty straightforward blowing date—except that Coltrane is along for the ride, and Coltrande never coasted, no matter what the context. Thus Billie’s Bounce starts out as your typical sort of bop-swing number, with a nice, loping, medium-uptempo beat, but when Coltrane enters for his solo we’re in the world of Coltrane with his already-evolving “sheets of sound.” Then when he stops and Donald Byrd enters, you’re back in Average Jazz-land. It’s utterly startling, like hearing a great poet reading his latest creation in the midst of other people singing, “Oop-bop-sh-bam, a kloogle-mop.” Well, perhaps I’m being a little hard on the others, but they’re just average good musicians while Coltrane is operating on genius level, but I have to say that I was less than thrilled with George Joyner’s thumping, foursquare bass playing. He sounds like an R&B or rock musician well out of his depth; he klunks along while Garland and drummer Art Taylor are really swinging. Listen to his unimaginative and slightly inept solo in Billie’s Bounce: I’ve heard first-year college students play better bass than this. Where did they find this guy, in John’s Bargain Store?

For a perfect illustration of what I mean, listen to the way Paul Chambers plays on Crazy Rhythm. Now, that’s a bass player, folks. He swings, he cooks, and both Garland and Taylor sound happier to have him back there. Indeed, his arco solo is stunning and imaginative, just what the doctor ordered. C.T.A. was actually recorded at a session on which drummer Taylor was the leader, and issued as part of an LP titled Taylor’s Wailers. On this one, Coltrane dominates from the very opening, and oddly enough, he plays more boppishly here, and less Trane-like, than he did on the first track; he was evidently relaxed and having fun. This different approach makes his solo fit in better, and to be honest, everyone else is swinging so hard here that you almost don’t even notice Joyner’s inept bass playing.

The entire second side of the LP, and the closing track on this CD, is a Garland original, the bluesy Lazy Mae. The pianist introduces this tune with a single-note bass lick reminiscent of Duke Ellington’s Dooji Wooji from the 1930s. Sadly, in this slow tempo with lots of space between notes, you once again notice Joyner’s deficiencies on bass, although everyone else is in top form. Oddly, Garland’s piano sounds strange, as if he were playing a xylophone or something. Bad miking, bad instrument, or both? No other instrument enters until 7:42, and it is Coltrane, here once again sounding relaxed, his style somewhere between the way he sounded on C.T.A. and his sheets-of-sound mode. Unfortunately, we then get a Joyner bass solo, so you can close your ears for a couple of minutes. Happily, when Donald Byrd come is he is flying, sounding a bit like Clifford Brown in a laid-back mood. When Garland returns, he is playing a relatively simple, repetitive blues riff, which he fades out on after two choruses.

One of the detriments of this CD is that it was obviously copied directly from an LP copy, because there are occasional crackles in it and the sound is tubby and without much sonic range. But by and large, it’s an uneven session, valuable mostly for Coltrane and Garland, and sometimes their styles clash. Still, I figure that Coltrane completists will want to have it, so there you are.

—© 2016 Lynn René Bayley

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