This CD box set, available also and more importantly in vinyl, brings together five terrific Coltrane albums from the first half of the 1960s – Giant Steps, Bags & Trane (with Milt Jackson), Olé Coltrane, Plays The Blues and The Avant-Garde (with Don Cherry) – plus a set of previously unissued tracks released as The Coltrane Legacy in 1970. There is an excellent booklet essay by Ashley Kahn.
These albums are available elsewhere in stereo, so why worry about these mono versions? Well, although the stereo versions are just as genuine – Atlantic recorded for both formats in this period of transition for mass recorded music technology – there is an argument that mono is the more authentic listening experience of the day. It’s how most people at the time would have experienced the music.
But why should we be concerned with what a 1960 set of ears just below that Brylcreemed short back and sides and above that Brooks Brothers button-down collar would have heard? Well, a quick sound test comparing stereo and mono versions of the Giant Steps album shows those ‘60s hipsters may have had the better deal. There seems to be more cohesion in the mono sound, and anyway the stereo version I have – part of the bargain Original Album Series sets that Rhino repackaged a few years back – has saxophone and piano in the left speaker, bass and drums in the right, which sounds weird.
Of course, if we’re getting this “authentic” then the format needs to be the right one. I have been listening on CD because I ditched the vinyl more than a decade back (I can hear the gasps of horror as I write) but I am quite happy to admit that this music is probably best heard with a needle working its way through some grooves on a big black disc.
A gentle warning: while the CD set is £34, the vinyl one is £107. You do get a bonus with the vinyl box, a single containing two takes of My Favourite Things. All things considered, the vinyl box is likely to bring the greater pleasure for many years to come.
- John Coltrane: The Atlantic Years – In Mono is officially released on Friday.