VARIOUS ARTISTS / Giant Steps Mixtape
There are those who argue that Ornette Coleman’s music was more revolutionary in that Coleman completely changed the harmonic basis of jazz in 1959. Others argue that Miles Davis and his introduction of modal jazz and fusion jazz did more to change the direction of modern music than any other musician in the 20th century. But within the context of harmony-based jazz there is no denying that John Coltrane set standards that still hold well into the 21st century.
Of all of Coltrane’s compositions, “Giant Steps” remains the gold standard, even acknowledged by those who deal exclusively in plastic. Unlike Coleman and Davis, with “Giant Steps” Coltrane did not discard traditional harmonic progressions, he just gave us a new way to play traditional changes—a challenging way, that required deep knowledge of western harmony. In the mid-sixties, Coltrane would explore other areas and discard western harmony as the underlying structure but by then Coltrane had established the yardstick that musicians continue to use to measure how well they can “play the changes.”
Saxophonists in particular continue to study and challenge themselves by playing the harmonic cycles that Coltrane developed. You think you can play—well, play “Giant Steps” at a fast tempo and simultaneously take a meaningful solo.
But you don’t have to be a musician to appreciate the intricate beauty of “Giant Steps.” What is significant about Coltrane’s composition is that the movement is as easy to hear as it is difficult to improvise over. In one sense, Coltrane is the supreme Thelonious Monk student. Monk was the master of jazz minimalism, and Coltrane became the chief architect of making complexity sound simple (but not simplistic).
Here are 15 versions that include strings, saxophone quartets, vocal versions and instrumental solos. I had a hard time narrowing the Mixtape down to 15 selections. Indeed, I left some of my favorite versions on the cutting room floor because I was going for variety. It’s nothing short of amazing how beautiful this composition sounds regardless of tempo or treatment—and that’s another endearing indication of how important is this particular piece of music.
While I’m not going to comment on each individual track, I do want to call attention to the second track, the Mary McPartland/Alice Coltrane duet during which you can hear the two women discussing the music as they play the barnburner at a simmering (and shimmering) tempo.
The changes sound so right, so obvious once Coltrane codified them in his composition. I guess you can say Coltrane’s genius was in simply showing us the (previously unseen) obvious.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Giant Steps Mixtape Playlist
01 Giant Steps – John Coltrane
02 Piano Jazz – Marian McPartland/Alice Coltrane
03 Specially Arranged for Fay – Fay Claassen
04 Welcome Home – Jean-Michel Pilc
05 Jazz Mafia Presents Hiphopulation – Cannonball
06 Solo – Leroy Jenkins
07 FIVIN' AROUND – Henry Butler
08 The Long March Part 2 – Max Roach & Archie Shepp
09 Miami Saxophone Quartet Live – Miami Saxophone Quartet
10 Hearts Of Fire – New York Voices
11 Live In Tokyo – Michel Camilo
12 Trio 99-00 – Pat Metheny Trio
13 Soul Eyes – Vanessa Rubin
14 Steps – Deepak Ram
15 Return Of The 5000Lb Man – Rahsaan Roland Kirk
This entry was posted on Monday, June 27th, 2011 at 1:40 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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