Thursday, October 8, 2009

John Coltrane: Side Steps

John Coltrane (saxophone, b. 1927 - d. 1967)

There is a new John Coltrane boxed set released this week entitled Side Steps (Prestige). It chronicles Coltrane's work as a sideman. All the material on this set is exceptional and highly recommended. Side Steps is a massive but modestly packaged 5 disc set (mainly for the diehard fan/collector). What I find special are two sessions included in this box that you can buy separately and would be an excellent addition to your music collection.

The first is an album by the great pianist Elmo Hope All Star Sessions (aka: Informal Jazz). All Star Sessions was a session which pitted Hope's elegant styling against Coltrane's burgeoning dominance on the jazz scene. The elder statesman, Hope and the young buck, Coltrane combine for a wonderful date that has John Coltrane placing his stamp on many of the standards on the release. In addition, Hope's playing is exceptional as always and he leads the rest of band through a great performance. This is truly an underrated album from a hugely underrated pianist. While most will gravitate to Coltrane's performance, I recommend you pay close attention to the direction from Elmo Hope.

The second album from the Side Steps box I would recommend you seek out is Soul Junction from Red Garland. Red Garland was another great pianist, probably more well known than Elmo Hope but also his association with the young John Coltrane at the time did elevate both the session and their future works. This session is accentuated by the very lengthy sets (the tilted track clocking in at 15 minutes). The set is a really smokin' blend of midtempo blues and also includes standout performances from Arthur Taylor (bass) and Donald Byrd (trumpet).

Both Soul Junction and All Star Session distinguish themselves from each other through the strength of the leading men and the way they utilize John Coltrane's youthful inventiveness. You will definitely enjoy listening to these two underrated pianists as they mix it up with an up and coming John Coltrane as he is developing his own voice. If you don't have the money for the big box set I would suggest checking out these two albums.

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