“My Favourite Things”: Grant Green/ John Coltrane

This piece started out as a review of Grant Green’s 1979 Japan-only release Matador. Some consider it among his finest albums, after Idle Moments, of course, and arguably, Solid.

Just four tracks to choose from. Initially, I selected the Duke Pearson composition Bedouin, because I love the Wahoo! original, but then I recalled it had a long Elvin Jones drum solo and I don’t do long drum solos. Come the drum solo, I’m with the rest of the band heading off to the bar, return when it’s over. The title track Matador seemed a good if fairly conventional alternative: pure linear picking 1964 Grant Green.  Green Jeans is another happy romp…but aren’t jeans, properly, blue? Oh, Green jeans, not the best play on words.

In truth, all the time, I was avoiding looking in the eye that Rogers and Hammersmith show-tune. The Sound of Music  kept popping into my head: ♪♫♪These are a few of  my favourite things…♪♫♪ . Julie Andrews in the 1965 film version, unconsciously, we all know the lyrics!  Reminder:

“…Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with strings,  these are a few of my favorite things…”

“Brown paper packages tied up with strings” – ah, ding dong, door bell, another delivery from Ebay or Discogs. That’s certainly one of my favourite things!

As often happens, you take the obvious, and shake it around a bit, and a completely different bonus idea falls out.  Who plays the same tune,  My Favourite Things, on the soprano straight horn, 1960? Of course, Mr JC. And who does a better job of interpreting that Sound of Music tune? To my shame, the Coltrane was long overdue a spin. Of course, a good excuse to pull both versions off the shelf and embark on a journey of rediscovery. 

Let’s see what we discover…

Grant Green: My Favourite Things (1964)

Artists

McCoy Tyner, piano; Grant Green, guitar; Bob Cranshaw, bass; Elvin Jones, drums recorded Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, May 20, 1964. McCoy Tyner revisits his 1960 version with Coltrane.

Music:

Coming four years after Coltrane positively owned the tune, it was a cheeky move for Grant to cover it. You wonder if that was an ill-fated decision at the time, perhaps why Alfred Lion opted finally not to release the recording session on Blue Note at the time. Perhaps he decided it was “Coltrane’s turf” after all.

LJC Learning point: Green or Coltrane? The question “which is better” is a bad question. It distracts you of attending to what is good in each. Answers are ten-a-penny. What the world needs today is smarter questions.

Grant Green pulls off a game effort, a modal canvas where the solos occur over a two chord vamp. Green sometimes resorts ill-advisedly to needle-stick repetition, for tension and release, but his luminous tone and well articulated ideas generally  freewheel through the extended space. McCoy Tyner unfailingly adds interest in both background and foreground while Elvin Jones ensures the rhythmic flow with precise but restrained power.

Vinyl:  GXF-3053 King Records, Japan,  Stereo.

With four tracks each running around ten minutes or more, King were pushed to fit them all onto the vinyl. Note the skinny trail-off groove. Note also the incorrect 63rd address label. On a 1964 recording?

BONUS play-off…

John Coltrane: My Favourite Things (1961)

Artists

John Coltrane, soprano, tenor sax; McCoy Tyner, piano; Steve Davis, bass; Elvin Jones, drums recorded NYC, October 21, 1960 engineers Tom Dowd and the unpronounceable Phil Iehle,  Atlantic Studios, 1841 Broadway.

Music

Considering The Sound of Music first hit Broadway in 1959, Coltrane recording the tune in 1960 was a very bold “popular music” step. The hills were alive, with the Sound of Coltrane. He pulled a similar stretch with Greensleeves on Africa Brass. Forsooth sire, I have a doublet and hose in my disposition (W. Shakespeare) Hey nonny no, well and good, but does it have green sleeves? (LJC)

An AllMusic user review kicks the ball straight into the net*: “Arguably John Coltrane’s most beloved and commercially successful album, “My Favourite Things” more than earns its vaunted reputation by reworking a group of standards, deconstructing them and grafting new avant-garde concepts to their framework, transforming them into masterpieces that transcend their source material in the process. The legendary title track starts things off, turning a simple standard with an irrepressibly catchy hook into a hypnotic, nearly fourteen minute long showcase for intricate modal soloing by both Coltrane and McCoy Tyner…

If that is not technical enough for some, another user review helpfully adds:  “My Favorite Things,” liberates the improvisor to play freely on scalar patterns within the framework of Ionian and Dorian modes.”  Sometimes knowing the how doesn’t help appreciate the what.

(*The football reference is a follow on from yesterday’s World Cup match between England and Panama, which ended 6 – 1. My question, why only 6, slackers?)

Vinyl: ATL 5022 UK reissue of Atlantic LP 1361 mono

Original US  Atlantic I have found something of a quality lottery. This UK reissue is from 1964, early enough, and pressed by the mighty Decca, New Malden.

Collector’s Corner

And The Winner is: Julie Andrews…of course. Coming up next, the Sex Pistols punk anthem, I Am An Eidelweiss!

It is pure coincidence that this piece on Coltrane’s Favourite Things is published at the same time as the release of a lost Coltrane album from 1963, cleverly titled Both Directions at Once, at end of this month, June 29, on Verve Records.

Sonny Rollins writes in the liner notes, “like finding a new room in the Great Pyramid.”

With the discovery of the ¼”reference tapes that Coltrane took home with him after the recording session a session that was completely unknown and for which master tapes don’t exist an important chapter in the evolution of Coltrane’s music can now be heard for the first time.

The title suggest a session at the crossroads between Coltrane’s  lyrical-expressive and exploratory directions, featuring the straight horn soprano, and our friends McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones in residence. Sounds promising musically, and miraculously, they have the original master tape a copy “reference tape” of some kind. The question is, can Verve manufacture faithfully high-quality vinyl?

That answer remains to be heard.

Any thoughts on the lost Coltrane album from early purchasers will be particularly welcome at LJC, help readers decide if they too want to take the plunge. Any thoughts on anything else, the floor is yours, as always the last word.

 

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20 thoughts on ““My Favourite Things”: Grant Green/ John Coltrane

  1. Whispers that the mono source tape may have been “converted” to preserve it, and all releases are post conversion. But still from the ORIGINAL SOURCE TAPE !

    • Funny how no-one ever knows in these cases.
      You’d think if an all analogue chain gave such stunning results it would be obvious when a digital conversion has been used.
      In this case I’ve no idea, but the slight drop outs / tape flaws that I heard on a couple of tracks would easily have been fixed in the digital domain.

  2. There seems to be a number of questions asked below on these Coltrane tapes and how they came to exist.

    Firstly Bob Thiele allowed Coltrane to record as and when he wanted to, but by all accounts the suits at ABC knew about this as they gave Bob a hard time about it.

    Unfortunately ABC’s tapes of these sessions went missing at some point – it has been suggested they were recorded over, and that might have been the case, but equally they might just have been misplaced as the label Changed hands over the years.

    The tapes that were found were 7 inch 15 IPS reals than the higher quality 30 IPS that most masters would be on. However this in itself does not suggest terrible quality and what may be more important is how they were run.

    Were they run off from the stereo master real specifically for the artist, in which case you have a second generation tape, which according to Steve Hoffman was the same generation that Impulse used as cutting masters for mono. Or was Rudy running a mono tape machine simultaneously with the stereo so artists could have the tape. My money is on the former, but so little is known about how Rudy recorded for labels other than Blue Note. For instance he had multi-track recording equipment by 1966, but no Blue Note recordings bar one (An unreleased Herbie session) used them throughout the sixtes. Other clients must have.

    The tapes that these recordings are from were discovered in the home of John Coltrane’s first wife over a decade ago, and are from the same source as the extra tracks that have turned up on Love Supreme recently. It is fortuitous that they were found, and the music I have heard so far sounds great. Can’t wait to pick up an album tomorrow.

      • Ah now here’s the rub.
        Just picked up my copy today and I’ve a few comments on both the record itself and the packaging.

        The cover for the single disc version is glorious, but the deluxe is a bit of a mess, with a die-cut sleeve that is just calling out to be torn, and a very weeks piece of graphics, but you want the deluxe version versions of Impressions which are the stand-outs on the album.

        I can see why this material was passed over at the time, it feels a little under-formed, and the compositions aren’t fully there for some of the tunes

        The vinyl is flat and quiet – pressed at 140g – but the sound seems a little brittle at times. I think this might be in the nature of the sources, but I’m not feeling the depth that you would usually get with a Van Gelder recording.

        BUT….it’s new Coltrane, he’s playing brilliantly and where it all clicks it’s music that is as good as you are ever going to hear.

        • But after a second listen, at a higher volume, I’m going to revise my initial view.
          This actually sound pretty great.

  3. You said above, our dear overlord and master “A master tape did exist for this session, before it got lost a decade later, and it was clearly an Impulse session. Had they chosen to commit the recording to disc, it would have been an Impulse release, no? They either didn’t hear it or they did hear but rejected it as record potential. There are no other possibilities.” I must beg to differ, in that how many Japanese only (at the time) Blue Note, and LT series albums are there in the back catalogue?. These are the equivalent Blue Note unissued sessions. Many of these are not inferior, and were probably not even considered inferior by the decision makers of what made the lp. I think it was more of an issue of what they thought the market would tolerate, and I suspect a matter of quite a few months has to pass before you can offer a new title by the same band because you need to have made sufficient sales from the last one, as all of that investment in the release has to pay off. We then get the 20/20 hindsight of calling an album a classic, but it might have made poor initial sales. Many is the time I have heard of classic rock and pop albums not bothering the charts on their initial release. It just so happens that Blue Note and Impulse had catalogues that have the air of Midas about them, an album like Somethin’ Else has had north of 40 reissues by now. As you yourself note, Coltrane was prolific. You then have to add that there are mentions in several places (Hoffman forum) of ABC/Dunhill (Impulse Parent label) erasing tapes to re-use as a matter of routine. It is also easy to imagine the goldfish mind of the highly creative artists themselves thinking what they did five months ago is stale bread, as they constantly evolve ideas and change band members, requesting the label to issue their new thing.

    • Great, at last someone who knows what they are talking about. Mono “reference tape” is not the same as two track master tape, OK, but what is it? RVG 1963 used two track tape on an Ampex machine in the studio (tape 1/4″ 1/2″, 1″ 2″ what size? 30ips? no idea) . He had long since ceased simultaneous mono and stereo recording. I never read anything about ” 1/4″ mono reference tapes to take home” in Rudy’s production methods, so I’m confused.

      The fact the studio master tapes were (all) lost by ABC some years later doesn’t seem the issue, which is that Impulse commissioned the 1963 studio session, and for whatever reason, decided not to proceed further with it. That was probably true of many sessions, where takes were rejected, or the commercial judgement was ultimately against production.I’m getting marketing hype (“lost tapes!”) but no meaningful information as to the characteristics of the physical source. Happy if anyone can add anything further.

      Bah humbug, for me, sound quality matters, I can’t cope with bootlegs or badly produced recordings, so I guess not Music First. I am not sure what to expect, but mono sounds great to me, so that’s a good start.

      • Impulse didn’t commision the studio session LJC.

        ““I believe his contract called for two albums a year to be recorded and released,” Thiele explained. But that wasn’t how John Coltrane operated. He saw every day as an opportunity to advance his musical vision another notch, expand his range of expression, and maybe even record some tracks. “I was always brought on the carpet,” Thiele said. “They couldn’t understand why I was spending the money to record Coltrane, since we couldn’t possibly release all the records we were making… It reached a point where I would record late at night so at least we’d have peace then, and no one in the company would know where I was.””

        “This remarkable album, Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album, exists today despite Coltrane’s corporate overseers, not because of them.”

        http://thequietus.com/articles/24852-john-coltrane-both-directions-at-once-the-lost-album-ted-gioia

          • Thank you, my bad assumption, will correct.
            UPDATE
            Or perhaps not.

            Thank you but I’m no wiser after following the link. In 1963 Coltrane was under contract to Impulse, as it says, to produce two albums a year for Impulse. Thiele was funding his recording sessions and Coltrane held many more recording sessions than actual releases.

            Unless Rudy was working “pro bono”, this was an Impulse recording, though Impulse didn’t seem to keep track of what was happening, giving Coltrane a blank cheque, effectively funding rehearsal or exploratory development sessions at Englewood Cliffs.

            A master tape did exist for this session, before it got lost a decade later, and it was clearly an Impulse session. Had they chosen to commit the recording to disc, it would have been an Impulse release, no? They either didn’t hear it or they did hear but rejected it as record potential. There are no other possibilities.

            None of this reflects on the importance and quality of the musical performance, but on the circumstances of its production, now being framed as “the artist versus the men in suits”, which I don’t buy, others are welcome to differ.

            • Bob Thiele recorded Coltrane without anyone in the company knowing that he was doing it LJC. If he had’ve gone to them first then the recordings of Both Directions At Once (among others) wouldn’t exist. But he did it anyway. Thankfully!

  4. I think that “Green Jeans” was probably playing off both blue jeans and the name “Mr. Green Jeans” who was an American pop culture figure from a children’s show here in the States, Captain Kangaroo(ironically filmed in black and white).

  5. Hey LJC, are you buying Both Directions At Once? If so, will you be posting your thoughts on here this weekend?

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