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Music Review: John Coltrane – Side Steps

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Side Steps is Prestige Records’ final installment in a project that has seen all of John Coltrane’s recordings for the label anthologized. The first, Fearless Leader came out in 2006. It was a six-disc affair containing the albums released under Coltrane’s name as band-leader. The second, Interplay appeared in 2007. This was a five-disc set consisting of records he had recorded with others in a co-leader capacity.

The new five-CD collection Side Steps includes all of the music Coltrane recorded as a featured soloist on other musician’s sessions. All that is, except for the tracks he recorded with Miles Davis. Those sessions were released in 2006 on The Miles Davis Quintet: Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this endeavor is the fact that all 16 discs of material were recorded in the space of just two years, 1956-58. John Coltrane was not to reach superstar status until his first Atlantic LP, Giant Steps in 1961. But the time he spent wood-shedding at Prestige is possibly the most important period of his entire career. It was with these recordings that Coltrane found his voice, and he never looked back.

For the most part, Side Steps is arranged chronologically. Disc one features Coltrane blowing on the 1957 Elmo Hope Sextet album Informal Jazz. Also on this disc is the great Tadd Dameron Mating Call record.

The first cut on disc two, “Tenor Madness,” was recorded in 1956, and it is the only one that appears out of sequential order. The Tenor Madness LP is one of the finest of Sonny Rollins’ career. The title track is the only time he and Coltrane ever recorded together. It is a 12 minute extravaganza, featuring the two saxophonists blowing madly, as if their very lives depended on it.

The remainder of disc two features the Mal Waldron album Mal/2, from 1957. Discs three and four are devoted to sessions which were originally carved up into four separate Red Garland LPs: Soul Junction, Dig It!, High Pressure, and All Mornin’ Long.

The fifth and final CD is from Coltrane’s last appearance as a sideman for Prestige. In late 1957 he recorded with the tuba player Ray Draper, for an album titled The Ray Draper Quintet. Early 1958 saw him playing with Gene Ammons on the records Groove Blues and The Big Sound.

The 72 page book included with Side Steps is a nice addition to the package. It features a plethora of rare pictures, original album cover reproductions, a session-ography, and an interview with Prestige Records owner Bob Weinstock.

The period of 1956-58 was an incredibly productive one for John Coltrane, and Side Steps is a great way to hear him in his short-lived “sax for hire” period.

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About Greg Barbrick

  • http://saxophonestuff.com Rob

    I marvel at how John Coltrane was not only an artist on the saxophone, but a monster technician. He had all the tools and on top of that – he was an innovator.