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The John Coltrane Album Review Series
Part 2


Album reviews of the works of legendary
Jazz saxophonist John Coltrane.
John Coltrane
Album Review Written By: Mitch NZ

Part II - The Prestige Period
In the sessions that produced "Coltrane", Coltrane had finally proven he had what it took to lead a band. The resulting tapes were released as his debut album proper. If you're looking to skip the early collaborations, start here. Despite the fact that he was a bona-fide band leader by this point, Trane still did a bunch more albums with other musicians and continued making appearances as a side-man. It was during this time that he briefly joined the Thelonious Monk quartet, where he learned more than he ever did in Miles' band. A couple of years later he re-joined that group and made a couple of albums that were quite well received, but they're part of a different project...

In this period John had a 2-year contract with Prestige, and the amount of material he recorded was monumental. This is the period of quantity over quality, but luckily none of the quality is actually bad, there's just heaps and heaps of it.

This was a marathon to get through but taken individually there is greatness here. But trust me, don't do what I did - don't marathon this guy's discography during this period. If you want to get a sense of what he did before Giant Steps, listen to Coltrane, Lush Life, Blue Train, Soultrane, Black Pearls, and Settin' the Pace and be done with it.
Coltrane
Recorded: May 1957
Released: 1957
Label: Prestige

John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Johnnie Splawn – trumpet
Sahib Shihab – baritone saxophone
Red Garland – piano (Side A)
Mal Waldron – piano (Side B)
Paul Chambers – bass
Albert "Tootie" Heath – drums
Coltrane album cover
• Top Tier

While the recording session itself was probably a date like any other, the album itself is hugely significant because it's the first proper John Coltrane release under his own sole name. And you can really hear how he galvanizes the band. Each tune here is fantastic. Not only are there great solos but the heads themselves are catchy and well arranged. Sahib Shihab's baritone perfectly complements Trane on "Bakai" rather than overpowering it. Even better is "Straight Street" (Coltrane was trying hard at this point to kick the heroin habit) which has a sweet bluesy progression and some fantastic solos. The rhythm section are all the usual Prestige suspects, but Albert Heath in particular really sets this album alight. If you pick this as the first Coltrane album you listen to it would not be a bad choice at all.
Lush Life
Recorded: May 1957 to January 1958
Released: 1961
Label: Prestige

Side A:
John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Earl May – bass
Art Taylor – drums

Side B:
John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Red Garland – piano
Paul Chambers – bass
Donald Byrd – trumpet
Louis Haynes – drums ("Lush Life")
Albert Heath – drums ("I Hear a Rhapsody")
Lush Life album cover
• Top Tier

One of my very favourite early Coltrane records, this has an amazing side A where there's just a trio. Coltrane excels in this setting because it relies so heavily on the skill of the melodic player to fill in the gaps left by the rhythm section. Side B was recorded at different times to Side A and features a killer rendition of "Lush Life", one of the best ballads he ever laid to tape. This is a varied record that showcases a laid back style in multiple musical formations.
John Coltrane with the Red Garland Trio
(a.k.a. Traneing In)
Recorded: August 1957
Released: 1958
Label: Prestige

John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Red Garland – piano
Paul Chambers – bass
Art Taylor – drums
John Coltrane with the Red Garland Trio album cover
• Top Tier

By this point, Red, Art, and Mr. P.C. were John's go-to guys when he wasn't playing with Monk or Miles. This is a fun session where they really get into it. Plus it's the first time we've heard him in a quartet arrangement for a while. Trane doesn't feature until quite a bit into 12-minute opener "Traneing In", but it's obvious he's having a good day when he does. The bass solo on this track is one of those rare ones that is actually damn good. I'll give a shoutout to this album's production too. Everything's really rich and full, definitely one of the better sounding Prestige releases.
Wheelin' & Dealin'
(as the "Prestige All-Stars")
Recorded: September 1957
Released: 1958
Label: Prestige

John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Paul Quinichette – tenor saxophone
Frank Wess – tenor saxophone, flute
Mal Waldron – piano
Doug Watkins – bass
Art Taylor – drums
Wheelin' & Dealin' album cover
• Top Tier

Flute is definitely a welcome addition to the repertoire. Frank Wess's bold, confident flute sound brings opener "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" to life. As always, the styles of Quinichette and Coltrane are vastly opposing, although I'm enjoying Quinichette much more here than I did on Cattin'. When all three horn players are on tenor, like on "Wheelin'" it sounds amazing. Multiple same-sized saxes are definitely an underrated combo of horns. 15-minute behemoth "Robbins Nest" is a pleasure to listen to thanks to the many melodic solos from all players. One unusual feature of this album is just how much clicking of the pads the mic picked up – obviously they were recorded very closely. This album shows a group of players who had a heap of fun recording together and were obviously extremely comfortable around each other. A really good session.
Blue Train
Recorded: September 1957
Released: 1957
Label: Blue Note

John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Lee Morgan — trumpet
Curtis Fuller — trombone
Kenny Drew — piano
Paul Chambers — bass
Philly Joe Jones — drums
Blue Train album cover
• God Tier

Blue Train is one of those near-flawless jazz recordings that reminds you why jazz is so awesome. I think the difference between this and all the other recordings made at the same time is that Coltrane knew he had one chance to put out a Blue Note recording and wanted to make it a good one. Other than that, it's many of the same musicians in the same studio with the same producer, but the magic that happened in this session was on a totally different level than anything that came before. It's like everyone planned out in advance what they were going to do, rather than just pick up their horns and blow, Prestige-style.

The title track has some seriously awesome horn chords to open, then each player takes a solo. Coltrane has never sounded more confident than what he does here, really exploring the outer limits of the simple progression and fitting more and more notes into each run. Lee Morgan shows what an incredible player he can be too. Obviously inspired by Coltrane, he takes some jaw-dropping runs in this solo and in the other tracks on this album. Curtis is a bit more muted by comparison but his style grows on you as the album progresses. Although he isn't flashy, his playing is daringly melodic. "Moment's Notice" is my favourite track on the album, the head is incredibly catchy and those chords provide fertile ground for solos. Too bad Kenny Drew can't keep up with the rest of the band here. Philly Joe and Mr. P.C. are on fire throughout - their playing is the epitome of hard bop. Like Kind of Blue in 2 years' time, this is one of those albums that you put on for people that hate jazz. It's just impossible to hate.
The Last Trane
Recorded: August 1957 to March 1958
Released: 1965
Label: Prestige

John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Donald Byrd — trumpet
Red Gardland – piano
Paul Chambers – bass
Earl May – bass
Louis Haynes – drums
Art Taylor – drums
The Last Trane album cover
• Mid Tier

While not a bad album by any means, you can't help but feel that this one was a little unnecessary. Opening with the extremely quick "Lover" (which has some very impressive work in it), we jump back to 1957 for an alternative take of "Trane's Slow Blues" from Lush Life, titled "Slowtrane" here. This one is much slower but makes for an interesting comparison to the first version. "By the Numbers" is a long piece that doesn't feature Trane at all! It's good though. "Come Rain or Come Shine" finishes off the album on a safe note, but not a particularly memorable one.
The Believer
Recorded: December 1957 to December 1958
Released: 1964
Label: Prestige

John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Freddie Hubbard – trumpet (3)
Red Garland – piano (Side A)
Donald Byrd – trumpet (1-2)
Paul Chambers – bass (side A)
Louis Haynes – drums (1-2)
Art Taylor – drums (3)
Gil Coggins – piano (Side B)
Ray Draper – tuba (Side B)
Spanky DeBrest – bass (Side B)
Larry Richie – drums (Side B)
The Believer album cover
• Mid Tier

This record covers a lot of ground and shows the transitional stage between his early Prestige material and what would be his later Atlantic era. Nothing on here is too groundbreaking, but this record should be heard for the gorgeous "Nakatini Serenade Alone" for its great latin style that would make reappearances on "Like Sonny" and "Wise One" years later.
Soultrane
Recorded: February 1958
Released: 1958
Label: Prestige

John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Red Garland – piano
Paul Chambers – bass
Art Taylor – drums
Soultrane album cover
• High Tier

Soultrane sees Coltrane back in the quartet setting, but even here he's not quite as comfortable as he would end up being. This is because Red Garland can't hold up his end of the bargain. Not that this has terrible results - rather Coltrane has to overplay to make up for it. "I Want to Talk About You" is the obvious highlight here - Coltrane fills in the gaps with some wonderfully melodic playing. The final track, "Russian Lullaby" is totally frentic - too bad John didn't do too many of these in this era. Although not the best album of the period, this is definitely one of the tentpole albums you need to hear, especially because it actually came out in the year it was recorded.
Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane
(co-leader with Kenny Burrell)
Recorded: March 1958
Released: 1963
Label: Prestige

John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Kenny Burrel – guitar
Tommy Flanagan – piano
Paul Chambers – bass
Jimmy Cobb – drums
Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane album cover
• Mid Tier

Kenny Burrell is an amazing guitarist. This set of tunes isn't perhaps the greatest demonstration of their ability to play together, but it does the job. Jimmy Cobb on drums is a welcome break from the Art Taylors and Louis Haynes of the other Prestige sessions. Too bad Tommy Flanagan is utterly uninspired, and the lengthy, aimless bass solos were not Paul's finest moment.
Settin' the Pace
Recorded: March 1958
Released: 1961
Label: Prestige

John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Red Garland – piano
Paul Chambers – bass
Art Taylor – drums
Settin' the Pace album cover
• High Tier

This was recorded by the same lineup that was on Soultrane. The opener, ballad "See Your Face Before Me" showcases Coltrane's increasingly impressive talent for slow ballads. In fact, Coltrane hits another level on this album - that "bottomless well" of notes he's famous for is definitely in full effect on "If there is Someone Lovelier than You". "Little Melonae" is quite a different affair from the version the Miles Davis quintet recorded, and as expected it relies on John quite a bit more. Not a bad little album for one of Prestige's throwaway sessions.
Tanganyika Strut
(co-leader with Wilbur Harden)
Recorded: May 1958
Released: 1958
Label: Savoy

John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Wilbur Harden – trumpet, flugelhorn
Curtis Fuller – trombone
Tommy Flanagan – piano (1)
Howard Williams – piano (2-4)
Ali Jackson – bass
Art Taylor – drums
Tanganyika Strut album cover
• Low Tier

Wilbur Harden's wide open trumpet tone is a huge breath of fresh air. He's quite a different player to Donald Byrd, who we're more accustomed to hearing alongside Coltrane. The return of Curtis Fuller on the trombone is a welcome one too. Too bad this set of tunes is bland, and the change of label hasn't spiced things up much. Give the lovely ballad "Once in a While" a listen but don't expect too much from the rest.
Black Pearls
Recorded: May 1958
Released: 1964
Label: Prestige

John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Donald Byrd – trumpet
Red Garland – piano
Paul Chambers – bass
Art Taylor – drums
Black Pearls album cover
• High Tier

Coltrane opens this three-tracker with a pretty savage attack that's unlike him at this period - you can tell Giant Steps is not far away. The band on this one are the same guys as usual, but Red's definitely swinging a bit harder than he normally does. "Lover Come Back to Me" is at a more furious pace but not quite as intense. The long "Sweet Sapphire Blues" isn't bad, but you can tell they were stretching out just for the hell of it. Another throwaway Prestige session, but worth it to hear Coltrane really on fire.
Jazz Way Out
(co-leader with Wilbur Harden)
Recorded: June 1958
Released: 1958
Label: Savoy

John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Wilbur Harden – trumpet, flugelhorn
Curtis Fuller – trombone
Tommy Flanagan – piano
Ali Jackson – bass
Art Taylor – drums
Jazz Way Out album cover
• Low Tier

Whilst certainly a pleasant album, that's all it is. Coltrane really takes the back foot on this one. No idea where the name came from.
Standard Coltrane
Recorded: July 1958
Released: 1962
Label: Prestige

John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Wilbur Harden – trumpet, flugelhorn
Red Garland – piano
Paul Chambers – bass
Jimmy Cobb – drums
Standard Coltrane album cover
• Low Tier

You can skip this one. Some really good Coltrane playing of course, in the same vain as "Black Pearls", but the tunes aren't nearly as good and the rest of the band is uninspired.
Stardust
Recorded: July to December 1958
Released: 1963
Label: Prestige

John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Wilbur Harden – trumpet, flugelhorn (1,3)
Freddie Hubbard – trumpet (4)
Red Garland – piano
Paul Chambers – bass
Jimmy Cobb – drums (1, 3)
Art Taylor – drums (2, 4)
Stardust album cover
• Mid Tier

Stardust, and its sister album Bahia were taken from two sessions in July and December of 1958. Material from these sessions is laid back, and while pretty, nothing special. The melody on "Love Thy Neighbour" is definitely a nice touch though. Too bad John's soloing doesn't sound as inspired as it had on previous sessions. I blame the rhythm section. If you're looking for a session that's relaxing and doesn't freak you out to much then this might not be a bad album to throw on.
Bahia
Recorded: July to December 1958
Released: 1965
Label: Prestige

John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Wilbur Harden – trumpet, flugelhorn (3,4)
Freddie Hubbard – trumpet (5)
Red Garland – piano
Paul Chambers – bass
Jimmy Cobb – drums (3-4)
Art Taylor – drums (1, 2, 5)
Bahia album cover
• Mid Tier

These tracks, from the same sessions as Stardust, are the hard bop side of the coin. "Bahia" has a pretty cool latin thing going but isn't taken as far as it should have. "Goldsboro Express" is a thundering trio piece that features some pretty cool trading solos between John and drummer Arthur Taylor. This Saxophone/Drums relationship would be something that would get explored in much greater depth once Elvin Jones joined.

Like Stardust, this is hardly a bad album, but not one ever meant to be released. Just another session in the long road to Giant Steps.
Coltrane Time
(a.k.a. "Stereo Drive" and "Hard Driving Jazz". co-leader with Cecil Taylor)
Recorded: October 1958
Released: 1959
Label: United Artists Records/Blue Note Records

John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Kenny Dorham – trumpet
Cecil Taylor – piano
Chuck Israels – bass
Louis Haynes – drums
Coltrane Time album cover
• Low Tier

Hard driving jazz this is not. Cecil's baffling piano style is the absolute wrong harmonic background for Coltrane to solo over. You'll be scratching your head over this one - still got to give the man points for trying something different.
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