The seven-CD set Live Trane expands upon Pablo's earlier CDs of John Coltrane recorded during his European tours between 1961 and 1963, including all of The Paris Concert, Bye Bye Blackbird, The European Tour, and Afro Blue Impressions, and supplementing them with extra songs from most of these concerts. Of the 37 tracks, 19 have not previously appeared commercially (except on a number of European bootleg labels with sound ranging from barely acceptable to horrendous), and a 1961 Hamburg concert with Eric Dolphy makes its debut here. A number of titles are repeated throughout the set – six takes of "My Favorite Things" and five versions of both "Impressions" and "Mr. P.C.," along with four takes of "Naima" – but true Coltrane fans will marvel at the differences between them from one concert to the next.
Japanese drummer George Otsuka is always one hell of a hip cat – one of those players whose name on a record always means that we'll pick it up – and never fail to hear something wonderful! And while Otsuka first got his start working with a piano trio at the end of the 60s, this sweet set from the mid 70s really has him stretching out nicely – working with a freewheeling group that has plenty of spiritual elements – but in that gentler avant mode you'd find in the Japanese scene of the time. The set's got some especially great Fender Rhodes and piano from Fumio Karashima, plus tenor and soprano sax from Shozo Sasaki – and all tracks are nice and long, and really let the instrumentation build up in this flowing, organic sort of way. Mitsuaki Furuno plays bass, and Norio Ohno adds in a bit of extra percussion too – and titles include a nice reading of "Naima", with lots of fast-moving congas – plus "Physical Structure", "Mustard Pot", and "Little Island".
The Heavyweight Champion is a box set that lives up to its title. Collecting all of John Coltrane's Atlantic recordings, including a fair number of unreleased takes as well as an entire disc of alternate tracks and studio chatter, the seven-disc box set documents a pivotal moment in Coltrane's career, as he was moving from hard bop and sweet standards to a more daring, experimental style of playing influenced by the avant-garde. Much of the music is hard bop (Giant Steps) or lushly melodic (My Favorite Things), but the latter discs show the saxophonist coming to terms with the more experimental movements in jazz. The scope of this music is, quite simply, breathtaking – not only was Coltrane developing at a rapid speed, but the resulting music encompasses nearly every element that made him a brilliant musician, and it is beautiful.