Written by 8:04 am Analog, Audiophile Music, Audiophile News, Vinyl

Listening Report: Reconsidering Coltrane’s Crescent On Great Sounding Impulse Records / Acoustic Sounds 180-gram Vinyl Reissue

Mark Smotroff looks at the big picture with eyes wide open…

John Coltrane’s 1964 Impulse Records release Crescent is one of those albums I admit I’ve not given enough time to over the years. The album got somewhat lost amidst Coltrane’s prolific early 1960’s Impulse catalog which I’ve explored over the years including Live At Birdland and Live At Village Vanguard, as well as ‘Trane’s superstar collaborations with Duke Ellington and Johnny Hartman. Also there were the not insignificant “archival” releases issued by prior labels in an effort to capitalize on Coltrane’s fast-rising-star status such as Prestige Records’ Dakar and Stardust and the many fine releases issued by Atlantic like Coltrane’s Sound. Believe it or not, the entry point for me on Coltrane was the early ‘70s issue of Alternate Takes (from 1961’s Giant Steps). Coupled with the sea-changing A Love Supreme and then onward to Ascension, I’ve forgiven myself for more or less overlooking this one.  

Mea culpa! 

Crescent was apparently the first album to feature Coltrane’s so-called “classic” quartet — which included McCoy Tyner on Piano, Jimmy Garrison on Double Bass and Elvin Jones on Drums — performing entirely original material. 

Add to this the reality that Coltrane gives most of the solo spotlight on Side Two to his sidemen, its not entirely unreasonable (for me at least) to understand why I may have not spent as much time with this album as I should have.  I have had it on CD for years. 

As I dug into my collection while reviewing this fine new reissue from Universal Music via their Impulse Records / Acoustic Sounds imprint, I realize that I never picked up Crescent on vinyl.  My bad. 

That said, you may be wondering why, after an intro like this, why you, Dear Readers, even need to bother with this reissue of Crescent now in this light. Well, because it is the studio release which came right before Coltrane’s masterwork A Love Supreme and in that context it is essential listening.  

Here on a quintet of tunes, Coltrane’s quartet embrace new original material which hints at the grandeur to come. Not that Crescent is any less grand as an album listen, but in some ways — with 20/20 hindsight working in our favor, of course — it feels like a stepping stone. It is thus fascinating to consider this music from that perspective.  Listening attentively, I hear how this group had fully bonded as a transcendent breathing-thinking-hearing unit, with each player attuned to one another’s mind-moves. 

In some ways, it could be also argued that Crescent was an advanced showcase for Coltrane’s work as a group leader and arranger. This is apparent on the Side Two opener “Lonnie’s Lament” which features an extensive solo from Garrison. It is  quite arresting in a studio recording in how the band completely stops playing to draw all hushed attention to the extremely lyrical bassist’s improvisation until Coltrane’s haunting melodic notes lead the group back into his bluesy melancholy dream. “The Drum Thing” likewise gives Elvin Jones a shining spotlight.    

Now, take a moment to revisit A Love Supreme and listen to the third section, — “Pursuance” — where you’ll hear the band break down into the drum solo and then segue into an isolated bass solo. The others sit things out instead of comping rhythm around him, which was more of the style on many earlier Coltrane recordings and in live recordings. There may, of course, be some earlier instances where Coltrane sets up this sort of vibe, but here it feels like a very considered template they were working on. 

Which of course brings us back to Side One of Crescent and the first two tracks which in some ways sound — to my ear, at least — somehow related to the underlying feel Coltrane would perfect on A Love Supreme.  You can hear it in the tone of his playing, the melodies and the orchestral manner in which the songs evolve. This is particularly true for the title track which feels almost like a rough sketch template for the movement-oriented composition Coltrane refined so masterfully a year later on A Love Supreme.

“A Wise One” is another of those open air Coltrane meditations which take the blues into a different light-space feeling. “Bessie’s Blues” is what it is, more of a throwback to some of the sound on ‘Trane’s Atlantic Records era vibe. 

Anyhow, the point of all this is that Crescent is a fine album worthy of your attention. Generally I am very happy with my copy in that the pressing is solid — manufactured at Quality Record Pressing — with dark black 180-gram vinyl that is well centered. It sounds great and sounds like what I would expect a 1964 Impulse Records release to sound like — it does not feel like the recording has been overly EQ’d or modernized along the way.  So kudos again to Ryan K. Smith who has handled all the mastering for the Acoustic Sounds releases at Sterling Sound — if you look closely at the run-out-groove (aka “dead wax”) you’ll see his initials and the “Sterling” stamp.

The cover art is again, like most of the Acoustic Sounds and Tone Poet series reissues I’ve encountered, manufactured to a very high standard that is arguably better than the originals – super glossy laminated sleeves made of thick cardboard with superb quality reproduction of the original artwork, design and photography.

You can also find Crescent streaming in high resolution on select sophisticated services. It is on Tidal in 192 kHz, 24-bit resolution MQA format (click here) and on Qobuz Hi Res (click here) at 96 kHz, 24-bit. It is also on Apple Music in their lossless format (click here).

If you are a vinyl and Coltrane fan, you’ll probably want to pick up one of these fine reissues sooner than later as they tend to disappear from store shelves quickly. Either way you listen, give Crescent a spin if you are like me and had not given it the time it deserved. Another Coltrane essential for the serious fan. 

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