When looking at the sheer amount of work an artist the magnitude of John Coltrane left behind, it’s inevitable that many phenomenal albums will get lost in the shuffle. It’s not because they are bad, quite the contrary. This happens to any artist with an extensive catalog. Everyone knows ‘A Love Supreme’, ‘Blue Train’, ‘My Favorite Things’ and ‘Giant Steps’. As wonderful as those albums are, we have to remember that Coltrane recorded over 100 albums as a leader and as a sideman. That’s a lot of music.
There is a depth of musicality that many people really don’t appreciate fully when it comes to Coltrane. To fully appreciate and see the evolution of Coltrane’s playing through the years, you have to get familiar with his work. All of it. He didn’t just arrive at ‘A Love Supreme’. When you start listening to his older output, you can clearly hear the progression in his playing. The gradual shift from hard bop to a more adventurous, and even ethereal style of playing.
The beginning of the shift can be clearly heard on his album ‘Bahia‘, which was recorded in 1958. Bahia is a state in Brazil. Most of the slaves captured from West Africa by Europeans were sent to Brazil, almost 40% of them. Most of them were processed through Bahia. Culturally, Bahia still retains an amalgamation of many African cultures and traditions; from music, to deities, to food and Capoeira. The city of Salvador in Bahia in particular, has the highest percentage of Afro-Brazilians in all of Brazil. Most of the people in Salvador have African ancestry, and to be more precise, many of them have Yoruba ancestry. The Yoruba are one of the major ethnic groups in present day Nigeria. It should be noted that it was also around this time that Coltrane became a close friend to Babatunde Olatunji, a now equally legendary Yoruba Nigerian drummer. Coltrane dedicated his song “Tunji” on his Coltrane LP to him. The last live recording of Coltrane performing before he died, was at the Olatunji Center of African Culture in Harlem.
Bahia was the beginning of a more musically adventurous and globally conscious Coltrane. Plotting the timeline of Trane shows that the transition to full blown avant-garde and free jazz in his later years was at least a decade in the making. It was not spontaneous, like many people make it out to be. He didn’t just wake up one day deciding to play avant-garde.
Despite Coltrane passing at only 40, his output of material was staggering. Particularly his work on the Prestige label, which includes Bahia. I blogged about his work as a leader on the label here, and as a sideman on the label here.
Joining him on the Bahia session was Mr. PC himself, Paul Chambers on bass, Red Garland on piano, Jimmy Cobb and Art Taylor on drums, Wilbur Harden on flugelhorn and trumpet, and a very young Freddie Hubbard playing trumpet on the song, ‘Something I dreamed last night’. Hubbard was only 20 years old when they recorded this date.
Bahia might not be a popular Coltrane album, but it is still essential. It’s a synopsis of Trane about to open the floodgates of his deeply spiritual and ethereal playing of the future. The title track & ‘Goldsboro Express’ alone make it worth the cost of admission. It’s amazing!