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The legend of John Coltrane begins here.

Music Review: John Coltrane – ‘The Prestige Recordings’

The legend of John Coltrane began at the small, New Jersey-based Prestige label. The Prestige Recordings is a massive 16-CD set, featuring 126 songs recorded between May 1956 to December 1958. Incredibly enough, the collection  does not even include everything he recorded for the label. The music Coltrane made with Miles Davis during this period has been set aside for inclusion on the label’s eight-disc Miles Davis Chronicle, which has been released simultaneously. Still, The Prestige Recordings is one hell of an introduction to the man they called ‘Trane.

Coltrane was a man who came of age in the hard bop era, and there is a lot of it in this set, including the opening “Tenor Madness.“ The song features Coltrane and Sonny Rollins on sax, along with such Prestige all-stars as Philly Joe Jones (drums), Red Garland (piano), and Paul Chambers (bass). The jazz critic Ira Gitler famously termed ‘Trane’s trademark quick-run saxophone arpeggios “sheets of sound.” That approach can be heard on the earliest recorded tune “Weeja,” which appeared on the pianist Elmo Hope’s Informal Jazz album.

prestige recordingsAs the above entries suggest, deciphering ‘Trane’s Prestige recordings has long been a confusing task. The recordings are often referred to as “blowing sessions,” and were almost arbitrarily (it seems) assigned to whoever was next in line for a release. Consequently, out of all of this material, only two albums were released “by” John Coltrane during this period, Coltrane and Soultrane. The remaining tracks were considered collaborations with such artists as Tadd Dameron (piano), Kenny Burrell (guitar), Gene Ammons (tenor sax), Pepper Adams (baritone sax), Mal Waldron (piano), and others. The comprehensive 32-page book lists every artist and album that the music originally appeared on.

Coltrane would adopt “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music as his signature tune after leaving the label, but his interest in ballads and show tunes was there from the start. Examples include “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” “How Deep Is the Ocean?”, “Stardust,“ and a beautiful “Just the Way You Look Tonight,” among many others.

Prestige would cull the results of these sessions for albums such as Lush Life, Bahia and Black Pearls after Coltrane left the label. The amount of music he recorded was extraordinary, as is his ongoing influence in jazz. At 16 compact discs, The Prestige Recordings may be too much for the casual fan. For those whose interest goes a bit deeper though, this is the only place to start. The legend begins here.

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