Album of the Week - John Coltrane’s The Atlantic Years in Mono

The Atlatnic Years in Mono
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Artist: John Coltrane
Genre: Jazz
Label: Rhino

Of all the names to conjure with from jazz's golden age, none is so revered, so obscured by myth, so loaded with assumptions, as that of John Coltrane.

The North Carolina-born saxophonist, who died in 1967 at the age of 40, is the fulcrum about which modern jazz pivots. He set standards that musicians are still trying to live up to, and his later work holds an almost religious significance for many jazz listeners. Indeed most music fans have a Coltrane record lurking somewhere, even if they haven’t actually listened to it. In San Francisco, there is even a church of John Coltrane, where the great saxophonist is revered as a modern-day saint.

With such a weight of mythology, it’s easy to take the actual music for granted but here is a perfect opportunity to come afresh to Coltrane’s first great recordings as leader.

The Atlantic Years in Mono collects five of the saxophonist’s recordings made for the Ertegun brothers between the summer of 1959 and early 1961 – including the hugely influential Giant Steps (1960), as well as Bags & Trane (1961), Olé Coltrane (1962), Coltrane Plays The Blues (1962), and The Avant Garde (not released until 1966) – each presented in glorious monaural sound, in a facsimile of its original cover. A sixth disc features outtakes from several sessions, and there is an essay from jazz writer Ashley Kahn, all packaged in a handsome, cloth-bound box, and available on vinyl or CD.


Whether it’s worth the indulgence for those who already own these records in some other form depends on the precise depth of your audio fetish. The severe separation of Atlantic’s early stereo releases means that these mono masters clarify the sound somewhat, but after a while, all that ceases to matter. You’re listening to John Coltrane and even on a cheap compact cassette – which is how these particular ears first encountered Giant Steps – these recordings glow with pure joy.

Bothering about the sound quality is a little like asking the guy who has just been to the moon whether his seat cushion was soft

Cormac Larkin

Cormac Larkin

Cormac Larkin, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a musician, writer and director