Larry Blumenfeld
September 07, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Were it not for the power and breadth of saxophonist John Coltrane’s legacy and the lithe prose of New York Times critic Ben Ratliff, Coltrane would be a scholarly monograph — it’s that rich in historical detail and musicological analysis. But Ratliff aims beyond simple biography or ordinary criticism, toward a fresh form. It’s a two-part tale: Ratliff follows Coltrane’s ”path toward the sublime” — his work with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, as leader of his own classic quartet, and as free-jazz avatar; then he charts his influence as expressed by musicians and critics, both past and present. Like Coltrane’s legendary solos, Ratliff’s book is first rigorous, then beautiful, always in search of empowering truths. Sidestepping a Great-Man narrative, Ratliff finds that ”Above all, Coltrane created possibilities for good things to happen in bands.” A-

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