John Coltrane ‘58: The Prestige Recordings
Contributed by Ray Hogan for Plutonic Magazine
I live in a world where there can never be enough John Coltrane music. So instead of yawning when collections like this one are repackaged and repurposed just about every year, I get elated. This year’s contribution (spread over five CDs or 8 LPs) is an interesting one. In 1958, the saxophonist recorded enough material that it would appear on eight albums over the next eight years, all on Prestige Records. This new set presents the songs in the chronological order in which they were recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s New Jersey studio.
First, a little perspective. By 1958 Coltrane had proven himself a gifted saxophonist in the bands of Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk but was still developmentally a few years away from becoming one of the most important figures in American music. Case in point, Davis’ eternal “Kind of Blue,” which featured Trane as a member of the trumpeter’s first great quintet, was still a year away, as was Coltrane’s game changing “Giant Steps.” The eternally searching and soaring musical prophet era would begin in 1960 and last until his death from liver cancer in 1967. That era has been examined and reexamined by some of the greatest musical thinkers on earth. Suffice to say, every superlative and honor he has been enshrined with is merited.
So what, then, is the point of examining 1958? (Note: we are reviewing strictly the music and none of the collectible accessories that come with a box set.) Plenty. There is more than 6 hours of music and if you blindfold-tested anyone from casual jazz fan to hardcore devotee, responses would be overwhelmingly positive.
Listening to a creative genius about to burst is important from the historical perspective. It’s also fun that for a career known for pushing, examining, defining and questioning musical boundaries, the majority of the 37 songs were written by others. There’s some lingua franca in “Lush Life,” which kicks of the set at nearly 14 minutes, “Stardust” and “Russian Lullaby,” which is taken at such a breakneck tempo it may take a few minutes to recognize the melody.
There is also the record Coltrane recorded with Kenny Burrell, which marked the only recording of the saxophonist recording with a guitarist, in its entirety. I consider this record a classic and is probably the most recognized music on “John Coltrane: ‘58”. (Note: Burrell is currently in a bad way financially and not able to perform, please consider his GoFundMe page). The pairing of my favorite jazz guitarist with my favorite jazz musician is brilliant throughout. Seek this record out if you aren’t familiar with it. Other familiar names that appear as backing musicians include bassist Paul Chambers, pianist Tommy Flanagan and Red Garland and drummers Art Taylor and Jimmy Cobb.
Good luck if you’re looking for clues into the musician John Coltrane would become. The sheets of sound theory is at play here but that’s about it. The collection is somewhat ballad heavy, which is fine; He’s profoundly lyrical in that mode just as he is technically adroit with the faster stuff.
In 1958, John Coltrane was still becoming. Two years later, he was BEING. In 7 short years changed the course of not just jazz but American music several times over. If projects like this continue to find virgin ears, keep them coming.