Ballads by John Coltrane.

I started listening to the newly released John Coltrane “lost” sessions, Both Directions at Once, yesterday and thought, “You know, I haven’t listened a lot to this period of Mr Coltrane’s music, 1962-1963, “Coltrane” through to “John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman”. I should give myself some context and listen to some of the other music he recorded and released in that period.” The early years of the “classic quartet”, Coltrane, Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones, and McCoy Tyner.

So, I started here with Ballads. Ballads is a bit of an odd bird. It was recorded at sessions starting in December 1961 through to November of 1962 and wasn’t released until 1963.

Allegedly, the band would arrive at the studio with the sheet music, discuss each tune for a bit, “semi-rehearse” for a half hour, then record the music in one take. And that was that. I don’t know if it was a sort of warm up for playing their other music, or if it was actually intended to be an album on its own.

In any case, Ballads is pretty forgettable. It is nice to remember that Coltrane could be tender and play very quietly if he wanted to, but the songs all really sound alike. Coltrane uses a lot of the same sort of melodic strategies on every song. And the rest of the band is mostly tip-tapping listlessly along. Listening to the album all the way through, makes you wish you would only hear one song a month over the course of a year. The only tune that sort of stands out for me, like the band got a bit of it in their blood, is “All or Nothing at All”. Elvin really kicks it on that one, rousing the rest of the band from their somnambulance.

Oddly, (or perhaps not that oddly,) Ballads was the recipient of a “Grammy Hall of Fame Award” in 2008.

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