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Music Reviews 12.14.05 

John Coltrane

One Up One Down: Live at the Half Note


One Up One Down: Live at the Half Note is a 1965 performance by the classic John Coltrane Quartet recorded for radio and now captured on two thrilling discs.

The group (McCoy Tyner, piano; Elvin Jones, drums; and Jimmy Garrison, bass) was near the end of its four-year duration. As a result its playing is as tight as it gets. In recordings made after 1965, Coltrane grew increasingly experimental in both his compositions and his saxophone solos. This recording finds him balancing right on the edge between expressionism and abstraction, melody and dissonance.

Because at this stage in his career Coltrane would routinely take 10-, 20-, or 30-minute solos, only four tunes are included. But each is an exquisite journey. The title tune has no particular theme, it simply takes off and doesn't return to earth until 27 minutes later. "Afro Blue" begins more traditionally, but soon also enters the stratosphere. Coltrane's playing is trance-like on "Song of Praise," while Tyner, Jones, and Garrison provide an unsettled foundation that keeps the tension high.

The album ends with Coltrane's best-known interpretation, "My Favorite Things." But in this incarnation the Richard Rogers-composition morphs into a tour-de-force of model improvisation with both Coltrane and Tyner stretching out on breathtaking solos.

--- Ron Netsky

Sound Directions

The Funky Side of Life

Stones Throw

"New tunes with an old soul" is how I would describe the new release from startup group Sound Directions. The album, The Funky Side of Life, lives up to its name, funking you up with the full essence of '70s-style soul.

Crank up the phonograph and let the disc rip, as your skip button lays to rest and rewind gets a workout. Veteran producer-arranger-musician extraordinaire Madlib put together this group of session players, and each one has a musical repertoire. From the instant classic "Play Car" (one of the few tracks with any vocals), where you hear instruction to give the drummer some; to "One For J.J. (Johnson)" with its ability to make even a monk get to head-noddin'; to "The Horse" and "Theme For Ivory Black," both of which could easily be the score to any Blaxploitation film: This album brings you back to an era of musicianship where funk was the swagger that tipped Fred Sanford's hat to the side.

Sound Directions has found a way to make a full-scale time machine in less than 33 minutes of aural delight. Complete with the bare-breast pics on the cover, the only thing missing from this record is the popping and hiss of playing vinyl, and about six minutes more per song.

--- jaythreeoh

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