Saturday Night Tunes: Crescent

It feels like it’s been a while since we did a real one of these, so let’s go with something meaty. Crescent was recorded by John Coltrane and his quartet (McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums) in April and June, 1964, about six and seven months, respectively, before they recorded the landmark A Love Supreme. The progression of the group’s sound and cohesion, leading up to Love Supreme‘s climax, is fully evident throughout this remarkable album. It catches Coltrane at a time when he was really beginning to transition from hard bop to the freer, more spiritual form that characterized his later work.

The title track is first, and it’s really one of my favorite recordings of anything ever. Opening as a ballad, the group flows freely into a swinging middle and then back to a ballad feel at the end. Coltrane’s experimentation with time and sound is infused throughout:

“Wise One” follows a similar structure as the preceding track, though in this case the ballad feel gives way to a more Afro-Cuban middle, then back to the ballad. Coltrane’s treatment of the ballad sections is simply gorgeous, and he just tears into the more up-tempo middle section:

The short, swinging “Bessie’s Blues” is kind of a shocking contrast to the previous two freer, more contemplative tracks. Tyner gets a chance to really show off here:

We already heard “Lonnie’s Lament” on a previous album, but this version is different in one major way: Coltrane doesn’t take a solo on this one. Instead, Tyner takes a piano solo and then Garrison takes a lengthy and quite excellent bass solo:

“The Drum Thing,” is, well, a drum thing. Coltrane, along with a minimalist bass line from Garrison, state the melody at the front and back, but the middle is entirely Jones (with a little bass for color). One of the cool things about Crescent is that everybody in the quartet gets their chance to shine, and this is Jones’s:

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