When you listen to jazz sessions from 1967, the genre's wild transformation is immediately evident. Jazz heads at the time had their work cut out for them trying to keep up: Coltrane, whose death from liver cancer shocked audiences in the summer of that year, had pushed things into an apocalyptic, free jazz frenzy, while other icons of the past decade were splintering into a modern, far-out free-for-all that wove together ideas begged, borrowed and stolen from bop, atonal modernism, and rhythmic and sonic elements from Latin America, Asia and Africa.
This powerful, fragmented, exploratory energy is all over the recently issued recordings of Miles Davis' gigs in Europe with the so-called "second great quartet," which included Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams. They're all young, headstrong and virtuosic -- putting their performance to tape must've been like trying to bottle a hurricane.
The other recordings of that period -- from Coltrane's last recorded live session and Expression to the inspired Strayhorn/Ellington collaborations of the Far East Suite and Wayne Shorter's aptly named Schizophrenia -- are not for the faint of heart. But this challenging music offers big rewards, and helped make 1967 a year of particularly amazing sounds.