The ascension of saxophonist John Coltrane is well documented, as well as many of his most influential contributions. There is a lot to choose from - but I picked this one. The Blue Train album is really the first 'gem' from Coltrane's career. In fact this album's success seemed to pave the way for Giant Steps, and Coltrane's Sound, and My Favorite Things, and A Love Supreme. And it is also relatively listener-friendly, for those that may be new to jazz with still carrying great depth to keep more experienced listeners coming back.
Blue Train falls at a critical moment in Coltrane's journey. This album occurs just before many of the innovations that would change jazz - Sheets of Sound, Coltrane's Harmonic Matrix, aligning music with spirituality, and free jazz. It was his second album as a leader and his first and only for the Blue Note label.
Personally, for Coltrane, this album was his first since cleaning his life up. Months earlier, he was fired from the Miles Davis Quintet for issues related to drug addiction. Coltrane quite cold turkey and pledged his life to pursing spirituality in music. While he was a far way off from his seminole output - A Love Supreme- the Blue Train Album is Coltrane's first great masterpiece. To me, this album shows Coltrane meeting jazz where it was at before he would begin to move the needle with his own innovations. Coltrane is surrounded by an all-star cast of Lee Morgan - trumpet, Curtis Fuller - trombone, Kenny Drew - piano, Paul Chambers - bass, and Philly Jo Jones - drums.
I think one of the greatest and most interesting aspects of this album is how it hints at future directions in Coltrane's career. Trane's modal improvising is hinted at in his work on the blues, and title track, Blue Trane. The harmonic complexity and sheer velocity of a tune like Moment's notice seems to point towards the direction he would go with Giant Steps. Coltrane's composition Lazy Bird, shares some structural similarities to Tadd Dameron's Lady Bird, and seems to hind at how Coltrane would reharmonize jazz standards on subsequent albums. Coltrane's sensitive interpretation of the ballad, "I'm Old Fashioned" demonstrates the mature emotion that would characterize future tunes such as Naima, or Wise One, or Blue in Green, or the entire Ballads album from the early 1960's.
Coltrane's sound is always searching. This album represents the beginning of a search with all the optimism, the energy, and the spirit of exploration of any great search.