Blue Train, recorded in 1957, is often considered John Coltrane's first masterpiece. It is truly astonishing how much Coltrane was able to progress from the 40s to the 50s. Ask anyone who knew him during his early years and there was no sign that he would advance so quickly and become one of the greatest musicians to live. His general shortage of aptitude, however, was opposed by his extreme determination to become the finest version of himself. When he began to break through his initial rut, it occurred quickly, and he was almost immediately a desired player. Being one of his first albums as a leader, Blue Train shows Coltrane in a strong and sturdy position. It would be a great introduction to anyone interested in his work, hard bop, or even jazz as a whole.
Most notably, this was the first album where Coltrane was able to choose the musicians he played with. He knew what he wanted to do and chose some brilliant musicians for it.
He could not have chosen a more suitable trumpeter. Lee Morgan, being a teenager during this recording, was nothing short of a prodigy. He would go on to create a very famous jazz standard "The Sidewinder" and push bop to its edge during his post-bop years. I highly recommend checking out his work if you like his performance on this album (and who wouldn't)!
Paul Chambers, one of the most renowned bassists to ever live, was a perfect choice. Also a prodigy, Chambers was helping the bass to break boundaries. He also has some great work.
Interestingly, Morgan and Chambers both died at age 33. Morgan was shot while Chambers died of Tuberculosis. I am deeply appreciative of the wonderful music, and the number of recordings, these two were able to provide in their short lives.
"Philly" Joe Jones is unquestionably one of the most important drummers in jazz. Playing on a handful of classics with Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Kenny Dorham, Freddie Hubbard, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans - the list goes on and on.
Additionally, with Curtis Fuller on trombone and Kenny Drew on piano, you really can't go wrong. It should be quite apparent by now: Blue Train has an all-star lineup.
Amazingly, not long before the recording for this record, Coltrane had to battle two of the most challenging addictions: heroin and alcoholism. He had struggled with these since the late 40s, and after being fired by Miles Davis, he understood that something had to change. Thanks to his incredible determination and spiritual awakening, he was able to completely cut himself off from those substances. He grew significantly as a person and a player during this time, and coming back to the horn, he was more powerful than ever.
Blue Train is chill and relaxed while still being very powerful and complex - something common in jazz but not often perfected to such a degree. These elements allow the listener to take two routes: the in-depth listen or the casual listen. The stunning sound of this record should satisfy both. I would compare this record to "Kind of Blue" by Miles Davis in that they can be great starting jazz records, and as you grow and understand the genre better, they will grow with you. Even if you have heard a tremendous amount of jazz Blue Train still sounds fresh and clean.
This album is a perfect representation of hard bop (my favorite jazz subgenre), a glimpse of more excellent work to come from Coltrane and others, and an essential jazz record. A gorgeous showcase of Coltrane's indisputable talent.