John Coltrane - Giant Steps (1960), 8/10

This recording is essentially flawless and entertaining through every single moment, even more notable is its accessibility despite its complexity and nuance. Coltrane was of course an absolute master and is in great form here, but the rapid and flawless playing matched with tightness of the arrangements and songwriting are what set it apart from his other work. Beginning with the legendary title track and its blistering yet infectious melody is just as it should be, the band gets your attention from the get-go and doesn’t let up. You can hear their excitement and it yields genuinely thrilling playing even through what can be some exhausting passages. It would be remiss not to mention the endlessly talented personnel featuring Paul Chambers, Art Taylor, Tommy Flanagan and Jimmy Cobb, it takes some special musicians to perform these pieces at all, especially with this much grace and depth of sound. Even beyond the swinging choruses, there is an album length display of mastery in dynamics and extremely focused interplay that make it a standout album even within such an impressively loaded discography such as Coltrane’s. This was a perfect record to announce a new step up in quality for the sixties and a higher set of expectations. While it is a bit loaded on the front and back end, there is not a track lacking in subtle and dexterous playing, with most displaying a frank and outright proficiency. The album would be nothing without its hooks, however, and these are instantly infectious on the opener, “Cousin Mary” and even the gently swaying “Naima”. In addition, “Mr P.C.” has its own individual identity as a frenetic but surprisingly contemporary sounding tune, flirting and frolicking at the thematic edge of swing. If nothing else, Giant Steps is a bold and loud announcing of Coltrane and his band’s prolific mastery of bebop. An absolutely essential piece of jazz history and its progression into a new decade.