A Classic album; an ATROCIOUS reissue
Rinaldo | Durham, NC | 05/19/2009
(1 out of 5 stars)
"This is a classic album by John Coltrane. It's his first for the Impulse! record label; he would become readily associated with the label, recording all of his great mature albums for it. Due to Coltrane's prominence in the jazz world, Impulse! would also become an important jazz label during the 1960s and a major documenter of the avant garde.
This was also Coltrane's first project with a large ensemble: here he is the featured soloist in a big band conducted and arranged by Eric Dolphy (with wonderful thick, dissonant brass textures that perfectly complement the driving sound that the Coltrane quartet was then perfecting).
So, for fans of Coltrane, of the avant garde, and of the Impulse! label, this album can be safely called a "must-have."
That said, I can NOT recommend this particular reissue. In the past few years, Universal Music Group has been reissuing classic jazz from the Verve and Impulse! labels in inferior versions: sloppy remastering, and packaging that is much less solid that the great Impulse! reissues from the mid- to late-90s (under "GRP" auspices). The most heinous crime in the case of Africa/Brass is that it was already reissued (back in the 1990s) in a spectacular TWO-DISC version that provided fascinating (and musically successful) alternate takes. Now UMG reissues it AGAIN, but with none of the great extra material already recovered?
This reissue is typical of UMG recent's jazz reissue program - it's a lazy, sloppy, and disrespectful series of reissues. Most of the classic material was reissued before in MUCH better versions.
I cannot stress it enough: stay away from this reissue of Africa/Brass, and say away from the "Originals" series on Verve and Impulse! !"
A big band experiment that doesn't amount to Coltrane's best
Christopher Culver | 08/03/2010
(3 out of 5 stars)
"AFRICA/BRASS was John Coltrane's first album for Impulse! and features a somewhat different lineup than the "classic quartet" triumphs he was soon to record for the label. His working band at the time was five-piece, with eventual mainstays Elvin Jones on drums and McCoy Tyner on piano, but two bassists in Reggie Workman and Art Davis. But the most unusual feature of this ensemble, which gives the album its title, is a 15-piece brass band in the background.
The opening "Africa" is a fine display of Coltrane's technical chops, such as rapid-fire notes and a strong main theme. At 16 minutes, it's one of Coltrane's longest tracks, and Tyner and Jones get more room to solo than they often did. When I listened to this album for the first time, I expected some kind of brass extravanganza throughout, but the use of the brass brand is surprisingly restrained. They mainly play some otherworldly glissandi during the opening and conclusion. It's a fun track and quite catchy.
Unfortunately, the following "Greensleeves" comes as something of a disappointment. Coltrane loved the old tune and performed it often, but here it seems to lack the burning intensity, the white-hot passion that Coltrane usually displayed, and instead it strikes me a by-the-numbers affair. The third track, "Blues Minor" features explosive playing by the core band, but I can't help feel like the brass ensemble is intruding during Coltrane's solo here, obscuring a fiery line that is as wild as anything on MEDITATIONS.
So, AFRICA/BRASS isn't at the top of Coltrane's output for the Impulse! label, and it's probably best heard after A LOVE SUPREME, MEDITATIONS and KULU SE MAMA. Still, even lesser Coltrane has spectacular performances and plenty of entertaining moments.
AFRICA/BRASS traditionally has only these three cuts, but the complete sessions have been issued with alternative takes and some tunes that were left out completely. In building a classic jazz collection, I'm concentrating on the albums as originally issued, so I can't comment on the extras in the reissues."