Duke Ellington & John Coltrane Together Make Beautiful Music

What seemed like an unlikely pairing in 1962 of “jazz elder” 63 year old Duke Ellington with John Coltrane, who had just assembled his ”classic quartet” destined to explore uncharted musical (and spiritual) territory, produced a surprisingly cohesive and satisfying album.

Coltrane brought along Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison, while in his musical court Ellington had Sam Woodyard and Aaron Bell, who played together only on Ellington’s “Stevie” and the closer, “The Feeling of Jazz”. Bell joins Jones on the opener “In A Sentimental Mood”—which after a few bars makes clear that the pairing will most likely work well.

The 7 tune set included 5 Ellingtons one Strayhorn and Coltrane’s “Big Nick,”, which finds Coltrane in an unusually playful, whimsical mood on soprano sax and Ellington laying back and unusually “cool” and economical. For this pairing to work at all, both had to move musically to accommodate the other. On Ellington’s “Angelica” after an appropriately cinematic piano intro Coltrane does take off and Ellington almost exits. The chemistry worked so well the album was completed in a single session. Both had only good things to say about the session, Coltrane in the liner notes, Ellington in a book.

I have a first-press mono Van Gelder mastering (Impulse! A-30) (but according to Discogs, it’s really a “3rd pressing” because the label says “A product of ABC-Paramount” instead of “A product of Am-Par Record Corp”) and a second press stereo (AS-30) mastered at Bell Sound instead of at Van Gelder’s. This new Ryan Smith cut reissue should please everyone who buys this record, including owners of the stereo Bell Sound cut and presumably the RVG cut as well since both were done on Scully lathes. I prefer the mono cut that puts all in the same acoustical space that hangs together. The stereo mix puts the drummers in the right channel placed in a unique space with its own reverb, Coltrane in the left channel in his own space and Ellington in the center. Mono or stereo RVG gets a transparent, close up horn sound and shimmering drum sonics too with the less than ideal piano presentation typical of that RVG era. The pressing I received was perfectly quiet throughout and flat.

While some consider this album “holy grail” essential, I don’t, especially in a crowded field of great reissue titles coming at us from all sides. However, if your budget is flexible and expansive you will definitely enjoy this meeting of two jazz masters.

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jazz's picture

with the musical rating of your last paragraph, which is why I passed on any release of this one. Just my taste, many will love it. I love such honest eviews!

arcman67's picture

You can sample the music and see if it's your cup of tea. I was buying EVEY Blue Note Classic/Tone Poet release (and Acoustic Sounds Series). I was already familiar with many of the titles, so I was happy buying (again). A few I could not get past side one. I now audition on Qobuz and then go from there.

azmoon's picture

People are buying these in a monkey see, monkey do fashion. Many of these titles are quite mediocre. Maybe sonically improved, but lipstick on a pig.

Intermediate Listener's picture

The two just seem to click and the unexpectedness of that (as noted by Michael) is a big part of the appeal. Already have the 2011 AP SACD though, so wii probably not add this latest vinyl.

Kevinh's picture

As someone that has only recently started to learn more about jazz I thoroughly enjoyed this release. I have a few Coltrane albums in my collection now but this is the most accessible. Not to say it's the best, just the easiest to appreciate for me. Kinda like a gateway trane!

I was a little surprised to see the sound scoring an 8 but who am I to argue? I bow to your experience on this one Michael! Thanks for the review though - as always I learn a lot from this site.

I'm interested to see a review on John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman if you do one. I just got my copy a few days ago after SLOWLY warming to it over streaming for the last few weeks. I'll be popping that on later today.

I would love to see them release Africa/Brass as part of the future Verve/Acoustic Sounds titles, if that was a possibility. I'm really enjoying that one - again over streaming.

Thanks for the review Michael.

swimming1's picture

As usual, Mikey you're right on ,brother! Cheers,Chet

dennis davis's picture

Bell Sound pressings are not "fist pressings" of Impulse issues. Furthermore, their sound is inferior to that of "RVG" pressings--by a large margin. I've owned many Bell pressings and compared them to "RVG" pressings and it has never been close.

Michael Fremer's picture
I did not claim the Bell mastering was a first pressing. But since you are having a reading issue, here is what I wrote: “… and a second press stereo (AS-30) mastered at Bell Sound instead of at Van Gelder’s.” Got it now?
xtcfan80's picture

Not sure why Ellington and Coltrane would be considered an "unlikely pairing". Great musicians can and will connect with other great musicians with engaging results a high percent of the time.

jazz's picture

„All stars“ combinations (unless they played together in that band for long) are in my opinion not rarely musically boring and uninspiring.

KLW's picture

Have some really nice Frank speakers I put together....consist of OHM 4XO, Dynaudio D-54 mid-range, Magnepan IIIA ribbon tweeters. It's like a creole recipe but this system sounds amazing with spice (Powered by 2 LFD 60 watt power amps and a BGW 203 preamp) Everything described has been fully serviced/recapped with hi-end capacitors. Incredible sound! would put these against The Wilson Alexx any day.

Glotz's picture

Good on you for DIYing it... but yeah.

xtcfan80's picture

KLW....You go boy!!

KLW's picture

Thx....I am a speaker guy for a long time

Glotz's picture

on whether this album is 'holy grail' or not. Like you say, re-issues are everywhere and coming in even faster, and I need your insights here (as always).

Jack Gilvey's picture

When releases are announced I load them into Qobuz to see if they're worth vinyl. This was a must-buy for me and I've really enjoyed it.