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2007 is a significant Coltrane year as we commemorate his untimely death in July, 1967. 2006 predated the occasion with a fine release more quietly revelatory than the shocking Monk and Trane At Carnegie Hall (Blue Note, 2005) concert.
Fearless Leader groups together, on six discs, the sessions that Coltrane recorded for Prestige between May 1957 and December 1958. These have all been available in one form or another since Last Trane's release in 1965. The present set is the first of three which, when taken together, will replace a mammoth sixteen-disc set that was released in 1991. The unwieldiness of that set made it daunting, not to mention unaffordable to all but the die-hards, the present set offering a much more practical alternative.
Coltrane biographer Lewis Porter's informative liner notes go a long way toward making the music herein accessible to anyone willing to engage in some careful listening. He provides specific examples, using track timings, so that anyone, musician or otherwise, can follow his detailed discussion of Coltrane's development over this critical year-and-a-half. Porter illuminates key moments in group interplay and arrangement, such as the Latin bridge in "Straight Street" or the sudden groove switch in "Bahia." He also offers extremely insightful elucidations of Ira Gitler's oft-misused "sheets of sound" descriptor.
The recorded sound varied from session to session and here, it is probably as good as it will ever be, the monaural recordings aging with the most grace. Details translate more vividly, Sahib Shihab's rich baritone work and the subtleties of Mal Waldron's pianism in newly sharpened contrast. The slight but beautiful bends and dynamic fluctuations in Coltrane's first chorus on "Slow Trane" are exquisitely juxtaposed with the crystalline clarity of Art Taylor's cymbals. Similarly, each fleet-footed gesture in "Russian Lullaby" is stark and up front on this remaster.
These are now the definitive versions of Coltrane's earliest sessions as a leader, collected in fitting tribute to a supreme master of American music. If the other two boxes in the trilogy are given similarly lavish treatment, they will be essential for scholars and music enthusiasts alike.
Track Listing: CD1: Straight Street; While My Lady Sleeps; Chronic Blues; Bakai; Violets For Your Furs; Time Was; I Hear A Rhapsody; Trane's Slo Blues; Slowtrane; Like Someone In Love; I Love You. CD2: You Leave Me Breathless; Bass Blues; Soft Lights And Sweet Music; Traneing In; Slow Dance; Lush Life; Believer; Nakatini Serenade. CD3: Come Rain Or Come Shine; Lover; Russian Lullaby; Theme For Ernie; You Say You Care; Good Bait; I Want To Talk About You; Rise 'N' Shine; I See Your Face Before Me. CD4: If There Is Someone Lovelier Than You; Little Melonae; By The Numbers; Black Pearls; Lover Come Back To Me; Sweet Sapphire Blues. CD5: Spring Is Here; Invitation; I'm A Dreamer, Aren't We All?; Love Thy Neighbor; Don't Take Your Love From Me; Stardust; My Ideal; I'll Get By. CD6: Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?; Then I'll Be Tired Of You; Something I Dreamed Last Night; Bahia; Goldsboro Express; Time After Time.
Personnel: John Coltrane: tenor saxophone; Johnny Splawn: trumpet (CD1#1-4); Sahib Shihab: baritone saxophone (CD1#1, CD1#3, CD1#4); Mal Waldron: piano (CD1#1-3); Red Garland: piano (CD1#4-7, CD2, CD3, CD4, CD5, CD6#1-4, CD6#6); Paul Chambers: bass (CD1#1-7, CD2, CD3, CD4, CD5, CD6); Earl May: bass (CD1#8-11); Albert Tootie Heath: drums (CD1#1-7); Louis Hayes: drums (CD2#6-8, CD3#1-2, CD4#1-2); Donald Byrd: trumpet (CD2#6-8. CD3#1-2, CD4#4-6); Arthur Taylor: drums (CD1#8-11, CD2#2=5, CD3#3-9, CD4, CD6); Wilbur Harden: flugelhorn (CD5); Jimmy Cobb: drums (CD5); Freddie Hubbard: drums (CD6#1-3).