23 NOV 11 CHRIS SLAWECKI
The John Coltrane collection Essential Albums (Prestige, 2011) spans the beginning and end of the trailblazing saxophonist's tenure as a leader for Prestige Records, compiling four sets, and capturing the tenor in a few unique configurations, within its covers.
Lush Life (1958) presents Coltrane's first recordings a sole session leader. Several tunes feature his tenor with just bass and drums, including "Trane's Slo Blues," his bluesy vamp on Milt Jackson's famous "Bags' Groove" line. Fledgling Donald Byrd provides additional trumpet punch to its expansive title track. Trane fills out the quartet set Soultrane (1958), recorded in between saxophone stints with Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis, with the amply dexterous Red Garland Trio.
At the other end of his story, Stardust (1959) captures Trane's last sessions for Prestige, with young trumpeter Freddie Hubbard punching up "Then I'll Be Tired Of You," and Coltrane's tenor moving through its title track with the stately glide of Coleman Hawkins'. These liner notes state an everlasting truth: "It might be said of the continually probing and growing Coltrane that nearly all of his albums are representative of a stage of transition in his music."
The historically exceptional Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane ('58), Coltrane's only album with a guitar player, completes these Essentials. Burrell's cool but warm bop interplay brings a new complementary sound to Coltrane's heat-seeking tenor, especially in their duet "Why Was I Born?"
Pianists Tommy Flanagan and Red Garland shine only somewhat less brightly than the leader throughout all four discs. These Essential titles are also found in the RVG Remaster series and on the encyclopedic Coltrane collection The Prestige Recordings ('91).