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Music Review: John Coltrane – The Very Best Of John Coltrane: The Prestige Era

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John Coltrane has been gone almost 45 years, yet his influence as a jazz musician and improvisational artist continue to be of influence to the generations that have followed. Very few artists achieved such a monumental impact in as short of time, as he was a band leader for only ten years, 1957-67.

I usually prefer studio albums over compilation releases as they present the artist’s musical statement at a certain time in history. Next come live albums as they demonstrate the artist’s capability to present his or her musical statements on stage. Compilation albums present a taste of an artist’s work, which brings us to the subject of this review, The Very Best Of John Coltrane: The Prestige Era.

The Concord Music Group has just issued a series of Very Best albums by jazz legends Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery, Sonny Rollins, Chet Baker, and John Coltrane. The Coltrane release focuses upon his Prestige Label tenure. His time with the label may have been brief but it produced some of the most creative work of his career. During the time period he served as a member of groups led by Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, in addition to his solo work.

The recordings in this collection capture Coltrane at the beginning of his popularity, 1956-1958. They present him as a featured soloist, a sideman, and as his confidence grew, a bandleader.

The selected material presents a good picture of this period of his career. There is the sensitivity of his ballads, “Theme For Ernie” and “Soultrane.” There is his manual dexterity on such bebop and hard-bop tracks, “Good Bait” and “Freight Trane.” There is the sonic pleasure of the up-tempo “I Hear A Rhapsody.” He shows his emotions through his saxophone on “Bahia” and “I Love You.” There is a jazz-blues piece with “Traneing In.” Toward the end of his time with Prestige his music and recording techniques were becoming more sophisticated as he began to layer his sound. This technique is evident on “Lover Come Back To Me” and “Nutty.”

The collected tracks feature some of the best musicians in jazz history. Pianists Red Garland, Tommy Flanagan, and Thelonious Monk, drummers Arthur Taylor, Toots Heath, and Jimmy Cobb, and bassists Earl May, John Simmons, and Paul Chambers represent some of the cream of the jazz world during the second half of the 1950s. Throw in trumpet player Donald Byrd and guitarist Kenny Burrell and you have a number of individual and group delights.

The sound has been cleaned up as much as the technology of the era will allow. There is a booklet that examines his time with the label in some detail.

When Coltrane left the Prestige label he was well on his way toward making lasting impressions upon the jazz world. The ten tracks gathered here represent the beginning of that process. While his studio albums may have more depth and cohesiveness, the material presented here are excellent snapshots of a jazz legend at the beginning of one of the most productive periods in jazz history.

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