Coltrane Plays the Blues, from the same 1960 sessions that yielded the classic My Favorite Things, serves up blue Coltrane, but he's by no means relaxing. From the opening lope of "Blues to Elvin" to the sultry McCoy Tyner piano chords of "Mr. Knight," these are some of the most accessible tunes of Coltrane's career.
Ole Coltrane, from 1962, is more challenging. Sax/flute man Eric Dolphy (masquerading as George Lane) and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard step up to match Coltrane innovation for innovation. These records mark Coltrane's move to sever both improvisation's ties to a song's chord changes and the connection between solos and scales. While the theory behind the solos gives experts plenty to chew on, his new freedom is audible to anyone, especially on the lush, lovely "Aisha," a Tyner composition.
The packages themselves also are deluxe, preserving the original brash album art while providing updated liner notes, which offer details about the recording of the material but threaten to chase away casual fans with such statements as "Coltrane casts the melody ... with its wide open intervallic leaps, in the Mixolydian mode." This quibble aside, these CDs provide a reason for old fans to check in while the albums make things comfortable for those just walking in the door -- exactly what good reissues ought to do.