John Coltrane appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival on five different occasions, the first in 1958 as a member of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue-era sextet. As a bandleader, Coltrane performed at the festival in 1961, 1963, 1965 and 1966, and it is the middle two sets that are combined here on this intriguing release.
The 1963 band was a variation on Coltrane's classic quartet (Coltrane on tenor sax, McCoy Tyner on piano, Elvin Jones on drums and Jimmy Garrison on bass) with veteran drummer Roy Haynes sitting in for Jones, who was unable to be in attendance. Jones was back in the drum chair for the 1965 appearance, while Coltrane's final Newport showing in 1966 found him working with an entirely different band that included his wife Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. Since Coltrane did lengthy versions of his signature arrangement of "My Favorite Things" in both 1963 and 1965 (he did it in 1966, as well), it's impossible not to compare the approach of the two different drummers.
Haynes has a lighter, skittering touch that gives the piece a kind of airiness while Jones is all power and propulsion which makes for a more ambiguous and ominous feel. Both versions are striking, but the real treat here is the 23 minute and change take on "Impressions" from 1963, which has never before been released in its entirety (an edited version was released in 1978). Here Coltrane and Haynes trade phrases and percussive glides after Tyner and Garrison lay out what is a truly wonderful dialogue between two veteran jazz musicians. There's little doubt that the quartet hits with more raw power with Jones driving it, but here Haynes' contribution is perfect for the moment. Taken together, the 1963 and 1965 sets make a nice whole, and having two great drummers with slightly different approaches only underscores how complete Coltrane's vision was at this point in his career.
Amg review - Steve Leggett
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