AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer
For his final Prestige-related session as a sideman, John Coltrane (tenor sax) and Kenny Burrell (guitar) are supported by an all-star cast of Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums), and Tommy Flanagan (piano). This short but sweet gathering cut their teeth on two Flanagan compositions, another two lifted from the Great American Songbook, and a Kenny Burrell original. Flanagan’s tunes open and close the album, with the spirited “Freight Trane” getting the platter underway. While not one of Coltrane’s most assured performances, he chases the groove right into the hands of Burrell. The guitarist spins sonic gold and seems to inspire similar contributions from Chambers’ bowed bass and Coltrane alike. Especially as the participants pass fours (read: four bars) between them at the song’s conclusion. The Gus Kahn/Ted Fio Rito standard “I Never Knew” frolics beneath Burrell’s nimble fretwork. Once he passes the reins to Coltrane, the differences in their styles are more readily apparent, with Burrell organically emerging while Coltrane sounds comparatively farther out structurally. Much of the same can likewise be associated to Burrell’s own “Lyresto,” with the two co-leads gracefully trading and incorporating spontaneous ideas. While not as pronounced, the disparity in the way the performance is approached is a study in unifying and complementary contrasts. The delicate “Why Was I Born” is one for the ages as Burrell and Coltrane are captured in a once-in-a-lifetime duet. Together they weave an uncanny and revealing sonic tapestry that captures a pure and focused intimacy. This, thanks in part to the complete restraint of the ensemble, who take the proverbial “pause for the cause” and sit out. What remains is the best argument for the meeting of these two jazz giants. The performance can likewise be located on the various-artists Original Jazz Classics: The Prestige Sampler (1988) and Playboy Jazz After Dark (2002) and is worth checking out, regardless of where one might find it. In many ways the showpiece of the project is Flanagan’s nearly quarter-hour “Big Paul.” The pianist’s lengthy intro establishes a laid-back bop-centric melody with his trademark stylish keyboards perfectly balancing Chambers and Cobb’s rock-solid timekeeping. Coltrane’s restraint is palpable as he traverses and examines his options with insightful double-time flurries that assert themselves then retreat into the larger extent of his solo. Those interested in charting the saxophonist’s progression should make specific note of his work here.
2. I Never Knew
2. Big Paul