Friday, April 26, 2013

102 Giant Steps. Silliness

Album: Giant Steps
Artist: John Coltrane
Genre: Jazz
Year: 1960

  1. Giant Steps
  2. Cousin Mary
  3. Countdown
  4. Spiral
  5. Syeeda's Song Flute
  6. Naima
  7. Mr. P.C.
If there is any album which proves exactly what a farce this entire process really is it's this one. The fact that this album is here makes me think I should probably give up on the entire thing and go and do something else instead. By what possible metric can you put Giant Steps in a list of top 500 albums? How can you plonk Coltrane and band at number 102 and claim it's slightly better than Sweet Baby James but not quite as good as Fresh Cream?

I don't like to talk about future albums but I have to point out that Please Please Me by The Beatles comes in at number 39 on the countdown. Regular readers would know I'm one of the biggest Beatles fans around. When I finally get to Please Please Me I will wax lyrical about it and gush over how much I love it and always have. But does it really deserve to be 60 places above Coltrane?

If you could measure musical playing ability on a scale and you added up all of the musical talent of The Beatles they still wouldn't reach halfway to the towering talent of Coltrane. They guy is one of the first names on anyone's lips when they talk of great sax players with only Charlie Parker capable of rivalling him for first place. When you talk about great jazz musicians with any instrument he's in everyone's top ten. He's an undisputed master in his chosen field. The Beatles could all play but none of them would top a poll of greatest guitarists, bass players and (especially) drummers. They were a great band but not great individual players. If I walked the streets today I could find four separate groups of musicians in my local area who could replicated the entire of Please Please me note for note. I'd be hard pressed to find a band in my entire nation who could pull off Giant Steps.

Of course the area where the Beatles shine the most is as songwriters but Please Please Me only contains eight original compositions and not many rate as among their best. The title track and I Saw Her Standing There are great but does anyone really think Do You Want To Know A Secret is anything other than disposable?

I love Please Please Me but it's hardly a musical revolution, contains a few flat spots and for sheer musicality is nothing to write home about.

Giant Steps on the other hand is magnificent. Coltrane and his band are all players at the top of their game, the soloing is perfect and the songwriting, even though it relies heavily on improvisation, is fantastic as well. Lots of these tracks became Jazz standards and yardsticks by which other Jazz compositions are measured. I don't understand it fully but the title track is a revolution in chord progression and is incredibly complicated. To a musical idiot like myself it just sounds good but to someone who knows what they're talking about it's proof that Trane is a genius.

Personally I'd take Please Please Me over Giant Steps if I had to make a choice because I love it but comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges. Jazz albums have no place on this list because including a handful of them immediately shows everything else up. Coltrane, Davis and co are in a field of their own and throwing in a few token efforts makes everything look a bit silly. Coltrane's follow up albums are no real drop in quality from Giant Steps so why aren't they here as well? How does that make sense? It doesn't, Rolling Stone have just dumped a few token jazz albums into the list in order to try and give it a degree of added credibility.

It would make a lot more sense to me if Rolling Stone said "We haven't included Jazz albums because we haven't got a clue what we're talking about and it makes it all look a bit daft" check out a jazz magazine's list of greatest albums if you want some kind of perspective.

Giant Steps is magnificent. The playing is wonderful in every respect and it's as perfect as an album can rightfully expect to be. Don't worry about where it appears on some silly listing. Just enjoy a musical great doing what he does best and only he could do.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I don't like modern Jazz much but seeing how this was one of those 'ultimate' records and $1.99 I thought I would try it. The sax is boring and monotonous, the drumming simplistic and dull, this record confirms my prejudices about modern jazz, elevator music".

-1960 is modern jazz now? Surely that makes any jazz albums released in the 1980's futuristic?

So are these Giant steps or massive stumblings? Let me know below

1 comment:

  1. "It would make a lot more sense to me if Rolling Stone said "We haven't included Jazz albums because we haven't got a clue what we're talking about and it makes it all look a bit daft" check out a jazz magazine's list of greatest albums if you want some kind of perspective."

    This is really funny to me. I shall be digging through some of your other reviews.

    It's also nice that you have a bit of perspective regarding jazz vs. any relatively popular music.