One of the more woefully underappreciated blues artists of the last three decades, Taj Mahal has consistently made great records that combine his extensive knowledge of roots music with a refreshingly non-elitist sensibility. Giant Step/De Ole Folks At Home from 1969 was Taj's commercial high point, and it's easy to understand why. The first half of the album (originally released as a two-record set) features Taj and band blending rock, pop and blues on songs like "Take a Giant Step," "Give Your Woman What She Wants" and "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl." The second half is more laid-back and down-home, with Taj essaying solo renditions of "Fishing Blues," "Stagger Lee" and "Light Rain Blues" on banjo, harmonica and acoustic guitar. The most effortlessly enjoyable record of an effortlessly enjoyable career.
A career on the saxophone with one of the most freethinking saxophonists in music history for a father has to be a tough call. Now 46, Ravi Coltrane, son of John, has often chosen to be a sympathetic sideman rather than the boss. But his Blue Note Records debut as a leader feels like a giant step. The tracks are split between two groups (a quartet with Luis Perdomo on piano, and a superb quintet with Geri Allen at the keys, and Ralph Alessi on trumpet), playing an arrestingly original postbop repertoire, plus covers of pieces by Ornette Coleman and Paul Motian. There are delicate improv conversations between Coltrane and Alessi, passages in which Geri Allen and drummer Eric Harland uncannily recall the sound of the young Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams in the Miles Davis quintet, quiet tone-bending sax ruminations and a deliciously ramshackle version of Ornette Coleman's Check Out Time. It genuinely sounds like a coming-of-age for Ravi Coltrane.
Released in 2008 as a strong jazz entry in the affordable Starbucks/Rhino Special Products Opus Collection series, "A Man Called Trane" is a worthwhile and accessible introduction to the powerfully moving music of saxophonist John Coltrane. Drawing upon the Blue Note, Atlantic, and Impulse catalogs, this ten-track sampler spans a timeline from September 1957 to December 1964, revisiting his live performances at the Village Vanguard and the Newport Jazz Festival, dipping into the albums Blue Train, Coltrane's Sound, Giant Steps, Coltrane Plays the Blues, and My Favorite Things, and reaching a logical conclusion with the profoundly beautiful opening movement of his extended prayer and magnum opus "A Love Supreme." ~ AllMusic
Released shortly after the groundbreaking Giant Steps, Coltrane Jazz features a number of takes from the 'Naima' session, with Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb, as well as a track with Cedar Walton and Lex Humphries and an early outing by his newly formed quartet featuring pianist McCoy Tyner, Steve Davis and Elvin Jones. While lacking the conceptual strength of many of Coltrane's greatest works, Coltrane Jazz captures the saxophonist during one of his interesting periods of change, and includes some memorable original tunes. Particularly worth investigating are 'Harmonique', an unusual theme involving polyphonics (more than one note played simultaneously), and a beautiful ballad performance of 'I'll Wait And Pray'.
Although never formally signed, an oral agreement between John Coltrane and Blue Note Records founder Alfred Lion was indeed honored on Blue Train – Coltrane's only collection of sides as a principal artist for the venerable label. The disc is packed solid with sonic evidence of Coltrane's innate leadership abilities…