John Coltrane Quartet: "Ballads"

November 2014

BalladsBlowing the Cobwebs off Another Classic Jazz Album

HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers)
Format: 24-bit/96kHz FLAC download

Musical Performance

Sound Quality

Overall Enjoyment

When I reviewed Ella Fitzgerald's Ella Swings Brightly with Nelson some months ago, I mentioned that I hoped Bob Witrak, CEO of High Definition Tape Transfers, would look for more jazz four-track tapes that he could use as masters for great-sounding downloads.

Bob has done just that, and he now has quite a nice collection of jazz titles that keeps growing. Most of the tapes he's found have been from the Verve, Roulette, and Impulse! catalogs. Analog purists should welcome these titles just as they do HDTT's many excellent classical music releases. Back in the day, many of us fled vinyl and discovered reel-to-reel tape, which had all of the good things about analog sound, yet was devoid of vinyl's artifacts such as groove noise, pops and ticks, and inner-groove distortion. HDTT offers its titles in many different bit and sampling-rate configurations. I feel these titles, with original masters that were analog, work great at 24/96. Higher resolution than that is really a waste, as there just isn't anything on those original masters that merits such flights of fancy.

BalladsBallads (1963) was a departure for Coltrane's quartet, with personnel that became his legendary quartet -- Coltrane on tenor sax, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums. Reggie Workman replaces Garrison on one track -- "It's Easy to Remember." The legendary Rudy Van Gelder was the sound engineer, and the equally legendary Gene Lees disclosed in the program notes that the quartet had never played the tunes before: "They arrived with music-store sheet music of the songs. [They] would discuss each tune, write out copies of the changes they'd use, semi-rehearse for a half hour, then do it." Except for "All or Nothing at All," they did the songs in a single take each. Lees's notes are available with the HDTT download.

Coltrane's plaintive sax is featured on each cut, and it really makes one believe in instrumental singing, or song without words. McCoy Tyner makes instrumental comments with his piano and also provides some florid introductions to a couple of the songs. Jimmy Garrison provides a steady bass foundation, with Reggie Workman a little more aggressive on his one track. Elvin Jones is a wonder, providing not only rhythm but instrumental color as well. The overall sound is clean and mellow.

The sound is typical for the early 1960s. The instruments have a particular spot and are widely separated. Coltrane is in the left channel and the drums are in the right, with piano and bass in the middle. This arrangement makes everything clean, clear, and just warm enough without any unwanted reverberation. It's a studio sound and perhaps a bit on the dry side, but excellent nonetheless. I imagine that many audiophile vinyl companies have released versions of this recording, but it's hard to imagine that they'd be better than this one.

If you are fond of analog sound and believe, as I do, that it can be conveyed in a digital download, check out HDTT for this and other jazz titles.

Be sure to listen to: Track 4. Most of the cuts open with either melodic saxophone or florid piano, but "All or Nothing at All" opens and closes with virtuoso drumming for an intriguing departure. It's darned well recorded, too, and it makes quite an impression sonically as well as artistically.

. . . Rad Bennett