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Music Review: John Coltrane – The Definitive John Coltrane On Prestige and Riverside

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The Concord Music Group has done an impressive job of summarizing the early career of John Coltrane with The Definitive John Coltrane On Prestige and Riverside. Twenty-one tunes, dating from 1955 to 1958, fill up two discs. As an introduction to the genius of the jazz saxophone legend, this release is highly recommended.

These recordings trace the early development of Coltrane, from his role as a member of other artists’ bands to his emergence as a bandleader. Don’t look here for Coltrane’s pioneering use of the soprano saxophone; he was strictly a tenor man on these sessions. This is before “Giant Steps” introduced a new harmonic language to jazz. But don’t mistake this material as superfluous. If you’re not already familiar with Coltrane’s formative years, spending a couple hours digesting this material will better prepare you for later masterworks like A Love Supreme.

The earliest recordings feature Coltrane as part of the Miles Davis Quintet. Three classics from that group kick off disc one. Pianist Tadd Dameron turns up next with “Mating Call,” the title tune from the first album to feature Coltrane’s name (sharing billing with Dameron). “Minor Mishap” is a Tommy Flanagan tune taken from an album by The Cats, a leaderless sextet that Coltrane recorded with. Two tracks from Coltrane’s time with Thelonious Monk are included before arriving at music from Coltrane’s first session as bandleader.

Mostly this string of early highlights feature Coltrane’s interpretations of jazz standards. His mind-blowing take on “Lover, Come Back To Me” from 1958’s Black Pearls, featuring trumpeter Donald Byrd matching the leader’s intensity, graces the second disc. Coltrane’s maturing style comes to the fore during a version of Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce,” taken from the Red Garland Quintet’s Dig It!. Of all the music found here, only “Straight Street” is a Coltrane original composition.

Ashley Kahn’s authoritative liner notes cover everything contained on The Definitive John Coltrane On Prestige and Riverside in detail. Pictures of each album cover (even if represented by only one track on the compilation) are included in the booklet as well. Recording dates and personnel for each cut are accounted for, making the booklet a handy primer on early Coltrane. This music has all been previously issued in excellent audio quality, so it only makes sense that Concord has done a superb job upholding that standard. This release offers a great starting place for new Coltrane enthusiasts, as well as an economical way to acquire his early highlights. 

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About The Other Chad

Hi, I'm Chaz Lipp. An old co-worker of mine thought my name was Chad. Since we had two Chads working there at the time, I was "The Other Chad."
  • http://noxedgereviews.org/ Nox Edge

    I have? been listening to Coltrane for 40 years – life is indeed sweet. Be sure to listen to his work with Miles in Copenhagen, and of course – “My Favorite Things”. Enjoy – wish I had 40 more years. If I am allowed to take music on my eternal journey.

  • Joe Berry

    I have a question for Alan. Do you have information on whether or not Miles davis or john coltrane are quoted in an interview of saying they took influence from morton gould’s “Pavanne?”

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz/ Alan Kurtz

    Joe (#2), the connection is indirect but unmistakable. In 1955, jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal recorded his trio version of “Pavanne,” from Morton Gould’s American Symphonette No. 2 (1938). In 1959, Miles Davis tapped Jamal’s arrangement as a source for “So What,” recorded on his famous album Kind of Blue. Two years later, John Coltrane, who’d been a sideman for five years with Miles, including Miles’s “So What,” himself revamped the arrangement into “Impressions.”

    As for being quoted, Miles often expressed his admiration for Ahmad Jamal, including name-dropping him seven times in Miles, the Autobiography (1990) by Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe.

    If you have any doubts about the Gould connection, merely listen to the four recordings back-to-back: (1) “Pavanne” from Gould’s American Symphonette; (2) “Pavanne” by Ahmad Jamal (1955); (3) “So What” from Kind of Blue; and (4) Coltrane’s “Impressions” from Live at The Village Vanguard – The Master Takes.

  • http://noxedge-reviews.com/ Nox Edge Review

    I have a quick question as well if you don’t mind Alan, what would you believe to be the best musician/artist of his time? I know there is a lot of mixed reviews about this but I would be intrigued to know?

    Warm Regards,

    Karl