Saturday, July 19, 2008

Johnny Coles' Sunken Treasure

Some of the most extraordinary moments on the classic Gil Evans lp Out of the Cool are provided by the late trumpeter Johnny Coles. While still largely unknown to the broader jazz public Coles is among the finest trumpeters of his day. His feature on Evans' Out of the Cool is the moody and deeply evocative Sunken Treasure. A dark and brooding atmosphere is enhanced by the addition of both bass marimba and bass trombone to the orchestral setting. A languid tempo sets the tone for Coles improvisations on Evans theme. The over all impressions are of a deeply hued and subtle character not unlike those of Sun Ra. Coles introspective statements are reminiscent of another frequent trumpet collaborator of Evans, Miles Davis.

While having gained little of the notice that was truly his do Coles went on to record with the greatest composer-arrangers in jazz including Charles Mingus. His presence on the Town Hall recordings of the original Meditations are among not only the highlights of his career but that of Mingus as well. Coles would travel with the Mingus orchestra that toured Europe.

Prior to his association with Mingus Coles recorded what is perhaps his most fully realized album under his own leadership. The lp recorded for Blue Note is Little Johnny C and features among others the great tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. We are treated to a number of original compositions by Coles as well as those of Duke Pearson. Much of the warmth and ebullient personality of Coles emerges on this most graceful of jazz recordings. While still scarce on vinyl the album can be readily found among audiophile reissues.

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