A Love Supreme is rightly hailed as a pinnacle of jazz expression, but when John Coltrane recorded Crescent about six months earlier, he made something every bit as astonishing. It doesn’t have the epic unfolding quality of a four-movement suite, but Crescent—released in 1964—is the source of three Coltrane compositions that rank among the finest and most transcendent in all of jazz history: “Wise One,” “Lonnie’s Lament,” and the title track. Throughout Crescent, the language of the classic Coltrane quartet—which includes pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones—is so refined, you get moments like the telepathic tempo decision that occurs after the main melody of “Wise One.” Communication on that high a plane is rare, and Coltrane’s quartet set an example for every jazz generation that followed. Coltrane’s playing is extraordinary, shifting from serene and meditative to searingly complex (he plays tenor exclusively on Crescent, as he does on A Love Supreme, putting the soprano sax temporarily to one side). In his solos, he puts melodic cells through every permutation until they seem to generate a momentum of their own, and the spirit takes over. Tyner’s pointed attack at the keys, together with Jones’ churning, enveloping swing feel, combine to give the quartet a sound unlike anything before or since. The rugged midtempo “Bessie’s Blues” is a palate-cleanser, perhaps—and yet it’s no less fierce and exploratory than anything else on the album. And “The Drum Thing” omits piano, as Garrison becomes the timekeeper and Jones takes flight. The anomalous track is not an add-on, but a statement of Jones’ centrality to the band—and a testament to his brilliant vision for jazz rhythm in the 1960s going forward.

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