John Coltrane, Coltrane ’58: The Prestige Recordings (Craft)
Every few years, curators of the great saxophonist John Coltrane’s extensive body of recordings come up with yet another retrospective of his work. Craft Recordings is now the overseer of Coltrane’s massively productive years with the Prestige label. The company has reissued a five-disc album of music that he made in 1958. That was when Coltrane rejoined Miles Davis as part of the classic sextet that also included alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, pianist Bill Evans, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones. Jones was later succeeded by Jimmy Cobb. It was also a year in which Coltrane—firmly into what critic Ira Gitler indelibly labeled his “sheets of sound” period—was expanding further his technical, harmonic and expressive horizons. This box set is a dramatic exposition of a musician who with Davis, and then in the 1960s with his own groups, became one of the most influential stylists in all of music. Some reasons why are explained in a liner notes quote from a Coltrane successor, saxophonist David Liebman: “Trane’s unique tone during this period (was) full of edge and bite, yet there was a lyrical quality to his phrasing, especially on ballads…and of course the very scalar, legato approach that he was into at the time.” Making “Spring Is Here” an upper-medium-tempo swinger is a demonstration of success in his partnership with trumpeter Wilbur Harden. That combination was not always as rewarding. Coltrane’s initial encounter with the young Freddie Hubbard was more satisfying. Three tracks here bear that out, with his improvisation on “Then I’ll Be Tired Of You” providing an early indication of what the youngster from Indianapolis would achieve. Other guests on these invaluable revisits with Coltrane include guitarist Kenny Burrell, who is impeccable in a hand-in-glove duet with Coltrane on Jerome Kern’s “Why Was I Born.” Two pianists with whom the saxophonist was extraordinarily compatible in the ‘50s stand out: his Davis quintet partner Red Garland, and the elegant Tommy Flanagan. Drummers Cobb. Arthur Taylor and Louis Hayes have their moments as well.
Ashley Kahn’s comprehensive album notes give insights into Coltrane’s continued development at a crucial point in his career, and valuable play-by-play impressions of the performances.
If five Coltrane CDs aren’t enough for you, keep in mind that the 16-disc box of his Prestige recordings is still available. In notes for that 1991 compendium, I wrote,
“To those who worship Trane as a burning prophet, I commend his playing for its humor and humanity; to the instrumentalists who think that music started with Coltrane and that Coltrane started with freedom, for its discipline; and to listeners in search of agony, for its lyricism and beauty.”
True as ever.