Like the film it illustrates, the soundtrack to “Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary” does little to open new windows on the life and work of one of jazz music’s most inspirational figures. But then, Coltrane’s story wasn’t cinematic. It doesn’t morph into the sort of narrative hurricane that transfers to the screen the way, say, Ray Charles’ saga did. In fact, it was the opposite. Outspoken only in his desire to establish a gentle outward nature and an unshakably original artistic vision, Coltrane shunned anything relating to stardom in favor of a distinctly spiritual (although not necessarily religious) profile that informed his playing and composing until his death from liver cancer at age 40.
So, in viewing the 11 established tunes that make up the soundtrack to John Scheinfeld’s well-annotated documentary (one that sports commentary from jazz legend Sonny Rollins, modern-day disciple Kamasi Washington, and comparatively unexpected devotee President Bill Clinton), nothing is offered that casual Coltrane devotees don’t already know by heart. But again, like the film, that’s not the point. This is a primer album, pure and simple. Just as “Chasing Trane” is an engaging career overview, it’s mostly an introduction for those who view the saxophonist only from a historical perspective. Know nothing about Coltrane other than the name? Consider this an open invitation to learn about his music while separating the myth from the mysticism that surrounded it.
Just as the film begins not with Coltrane’s upbringing and musical ascent but with his initial performance tenure with Miles Davis, the soundtrack’s nonchronological play list opens with the saxophonist’s most revelatory work, the introductory “Acknowledgment” segment from 1965’s “A Love Supreme” — a composition that’s part prayer, part chant, part groove party and part trance-inducing tenor sax jam.
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“A Love Supreme” is as late into Coltrane’s career as the soundtrack goes (the film delves far deeper). The earliest entry comes from 1957’s “Moment’s Notice,” in which Coltrane’s altogether brighter sax lead bounces merrily off trumpet great Lee Morgan. So it’s interesting to note all of the music here — which also touches on the famed 1963 summit with vocalist Johnny Hartman, a few standards (including the single edit of Coltrane’s remarkable transformation of “My Favorite Things”) and stunningly topical meditations, including “Alabama,” that paved the way for the solace of “A Love Supreme” — covers only eight years.
Late-career abstractions with Pharoah Sanders and wife Alice Coltrane are omitted, which is too bad. They would have provided a more balanced and complete profile that is more in line with the film. As is, though, the “Chasing Trane” soundtrack stands as a fine new-generation introduction to this jazz colossus. All aboard.