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.