Here’s a hot one from Coltrane’s scorcher late period (1965): his famous Live at the Half Note session. This isn’t exactly freeform jazz, but in some pieces you have to listen closely for the rhythm. And hold on tight. This roller coaster leaves the tracks often! The title piece, for example, gets so wild I wouldn’t recommend it to a contemporary straight-up aficionado…at least not without hearing something tamer like his Live at the Village Vanguard set from 1961. The title piece features his longest solo ever recorded: 27:40. Eleven minutes into it, McCoy stops playing and it’s just Coltrane and Jones going at it in one of the strangest jazz duets ever recorded. It’s so intense Jones’ drum pedal breaks (you can hear it). Coltrane sax howls and screeches brightly as he explores dense forests of improvisation.
This is late night music supreme. Afro Blue begins with a soulful melody that McCoy and Coltrane hand back and forth, playing what initially seems a bit tamer. Nope. This too turns blue-hot. Tyner travels a different path in this one, but one just as festooned with wonders as Coltrane. Unfortunately broadcast announcer Alan Grant interrupts it after 13 minutes. (Who knows how much longer it really went on?) Perhaps one of the most remarkable numbers is the last track, My Favorite Things. The way Coltrane fashions his initial variations on the lead tune is so extraordinarily deft and inventive, the crowd lets loose with more applause six minutes into it than at the end. Don’t be misled by the fact that this is on two discs. There’s only slightly over 80 minutes of music; but you can get it on Amazon for a one-disc price.
– Peter Bates