Sax in Japan

Jul 21, 2007 (Updated Jul 21, 2007)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Its 4 CDs of Coltrane - Live

Cons:It may be a bit too avant garde for some jazz aficionados.

The Bottom Line: If you are a Coltrane fan, this is definitely an album to go next to Live at the Blue Note and Live at the Village Vanguard.

John Coltrane - Live in Japan is a four CD set of Coltrane live in two performances in Japan from 1966 (a year before he died). Discs I & II were recorded in the Shinjuku Koset Nenkin Hall in Tokyo on July 11th, 1966 and Discs III and IV were recorded at Sankel Hall in Tokyo on July 22, 1966. If you are a Coltrane collector you should know that Disc III was also released in the US as a single disc also titled John Coltrane - Live in Japan.

The recordings are in Mono, but the sound quality is actually quite good. The four discs actually contain only 6 songs.

Disc I has Afro Blue(38:49) and Peace on Earth (26:24)
Disc II contains Crescent (54:34)
Disc III has another playing of Peace on Earth (25:04)and Leo (44:51). Finally
Disc IV has an extended version of the Rogers and Hammerstein tune My Favorite Things (57:19)

This is not the legendary quartet playing, it is
John Coltrane on all manner of saxophone (Soprano, alto and tenor)
Pharoah Sanders on Alto and Tenor Sax, Bass clarinet and percussion
Jimmy Garrison on Bass
Rashied Ali on Drums
and John's wife Alice Coltrane on Piano.

But Mark, can you tell us something we can't find out by reading the back of the CD case?

Yes, let me preface my thoughts on the songs with this. By 1966 Coltrane was in his avant garde experimental phase. This is NOT Live at the Village Vanguard which is what may come to mind when people think of jazz music. This is the period of Coltrane's life when people said one of two things that cat has lost his mind, what is this noise? or oh man, Coltrane is genius, absolute genius.

I fall sort of in between the two. I have enjoyed some of his more experimental albums such as Interstellar Space, but for the record, absolutely hated Ascension.

That being said, although I find some of the saxophone solos to be a little overboard on Live in Japan, overall, I found this a deeply moving album, despite being recorded in mono.

Afro Blue starts right in with the audience cheering Coltrane's mellow sax backed by Ali's drums. It starts out sounding like traditional jazz, but soon goes into screaming sax solos that Coltrane became known for in his later years.

Peace on Earth is presented twice on this live set, once from each performance. This is a mellow laid back performance, the romantic John Coltrane if you will. (If you have ever heard Coltrane's cuts selected for two for Lovers compilations, you know that Coltrane can play a very romantic saxophone).

Crescent begins with this great bass and percussion instrumental that just pulls you in, and the sax doesn't even come in at all for the first five minutes or so. When it finally does, it is a combination of the beauty that is Coltrane and what I have referred to as murdered duck noises. Overall, the tortured duck moments are not prevalent, but they are the least favorite of my Coltrane sax solos. There is also some incredible piano playing by Alice Coltrane in this song.

Leo The beginning of this song almost sounds like a band warming up, the song starts out with a cacophony of sounds, but the melodies slowly emerge. Again, there are parts that are pure genius, but other parts that I wanted to hold my ears. Leo also contains one awesome incredibly long jazz drum solo by Rasheid Ali.

My Favorite Things should be recognized by anyone who has seen or even heard of The Sound of Music, this is that song, but only as Coltrane could play it. At almost an hour long, you know Coltrane and company goes off the main melody many times throughout the song!

I have to admit that overall, this album just grew on me, much like Coltrane's music. It took me 40 years to get into jazz, so spending a few hours to get into some of one of the great jazz masters more esoteric stuff is certainly worth it.


This is a great album to have if you are a jazz fan, and especially if you are a Coltrane fan. I didn't quite give this five stars because there are sections when it was too "out there" for me, and I missed the sound stage presentation that can only be achieved with a stereo recording. All my receiver's digital processing won't make a mono recording sound like a jazz club or a concert hall. However it is Coltrane, and that makes it very good indeed. Four Stars.

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