Friday, October 09, 2009

John Coltrane - Side Steps, Disc One (Concord, 2009)

Concord Records is wrapping up its epic reissue program of saxophonist John Coltrane’s music recorded for the Prestige label in the late 1950’s. As the name implies, this set tracks Coltrane’s appearances as a sideman for the label. His most notable sideman appearances during this period are outside the scope of this set, and those performances with Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis have been exhaustively chronicled elsewhere. So this is something of a wrapping up of his music for the label. Prestige was well known for it’s off the cuff jam sessions, so much of the music here has a mix of bop, ballads and blues, music that the principals could come into without much rehearsal and still find enough common ground to record meaningful music. Disc one tracks an album led by the pianist Elmo Hope called Informal Jazz, a session that included Coltrane and Hank Mobley on tenor saxophone, Donald Byrd on trumpet, Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Joe Jones on drums. The four long performances on this album give the impression of an after hours jam session where the heads are short and the solos are long. The is an appealing contrast between the taught, searching (and occasionally squeaking) tone of Coltrane and the lighter, swinging playing of Mobley. Chambers and Jones lock into each other well and Hope keeps things moving briskly with swift comping and soloing. The other album featured on the first disc is one of Coltrane’s finest sideman appearances, the Tadd Dameron LP Mating Call. Coltrane is the sole horn on this album, so it’s a nice opportunity to hear him in the role of featured soloist. Dameron is most remembered as a composer and arranger, and on this album he is the composer of all the material with Coltrane on tenor saxophone, John Simmons on bass and Philly Joe Jones returning on drums. Dameron’s compositions are bright and enjoyable hard bop, giving Coltrane much space to solo with a cooking rhythm section underneath him. Highlights of this consistently interesting album include the well paced mid-tempo “Soultrane” and the blasting cooker “Super Jet.” These two albums were recorded in 1956, during Coltrane’s first tenure with the Miles Davis band, also recording for Prestige at this time. What we hear on this disc is a young, talented musician searching for a way to make his mark and separate himself from the pack.
Side Steps -

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