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John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman

Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDCD 740/Impulse


Michael McClennan

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There has been an avalanche of jazz reissues of late. Some albums worthy of a second life, others merely kept alive in the name of antiquity. In the case of John Coltrane's Impulse period, there can be little doubt that a market still exists for these masterpieces. Not only are they historical treasures, but they have stood the test of time, and still make delightful listening.

In mid 1962, John Coltrane had come under much criticism for his lack of sentiment. He had proven himself a master of the saxophone, but he seldom showed a lyrical side. He then recorded a series of albums which, on the surface, should have silenced the critics. The Ballads album, Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, and John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman were all recorded in late 1962 to early 1963, and proved that 'Trane could be as melodic as anyone. He was then accused of selling out to the record executives who wanted to highlight a more accessible John Coltrane. What these critics did not know was that 'Trane's new sound was due to an unsuccessful change in equipment, and not to any change in philosophy.

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman contains only six tracks, each of which has become a definitive version of its respective tune. Perhaps the only criticism of the album now is its short length. It doesn't fill half the capacity of today's compact disc, yet it exceeds all expectations in its sound and soul.

Singer Johnny Hartman would no doubt be left to obscurity without this record; not only is this his most famous recording, it is clearly his best. Like a great athlete excelling in the championship game, Hartman rises to meet his accompanists. He has a lush, deep tone that lies somewhere between Nat Cole and Billy Eckstine, but without their commercial expectation.

The album could have been called John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman and McCoy Tyner. If there is an unsung hero, it is McCoy. Interestingly, Tyner's unique style is underplayed here, and takes an adjustment if used to the so-called "McCoy Tyner Style". The opening few notes of They Say It's Wonderful tell us that this is not the McCoy with whom we've grown accustomed, but he is superb nonetheless.

My One and Only Love begins with 'Trane's reading of the melody. It is perfect! After a short cadenza, Hartman sings the lyric to every woman in the room. Lush Life, Billy Strayhorn's masterpiece, was never given a better treatment. The most difficult vehicle for the jazz vocalist, Hartman understands the words and sings this beautiful poem with nothing but class and taste, qualities lacking in so many versions. A Latin-tinged Autumn Serenade is a welcome change of pace to finish the album. Though the tempo is quicker and the energy level with it, the track is a perfect match for the rest of the album. Trane's solo, built of short motivic phrases, shows that his unique style, even when couched in lyricism, is never far from the surface.

Too often, reissuing means remastering. This can destroy the original creation. Producer Rudy Van Gelder did the original recordings for this album to two tracks. They are recorded beautifully. Fortunately, Mobile Fidelity's Original Master Recording™ is mastered with their GAIN 2 with DSD technology. The results are superb. I imagine what we are hearing today is close to what Van Gelder heard in '63. As such, the reissue of John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman is at or near the top of the heap. Simply, one of the greatest John Coltrane albums, with Johnny Hartman's excellent contribution along for the ride. Highly recommended.

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