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Various: The Prestige Legacy Vol. 1: The High Priests

Derek Taylor By

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This appropriately titled disc, the first in what will presumably be a continuing series of retrospective compilations, gathers seminal work by the four bop Brahmins of the Prestige label- Rollins, Davis, Coltrane and Monk. Each one of sixteen tracks is a cornerstone classic in jazz history, but curiously the uniformly stellar nature of the material points to an inherent problem with the project: the albums from which these tracks are culled are all essential in their own right. Sonny Rollins With the Modern Jazz Quartet, Monk, Walkin’, Coltrane, Traneing In, Soultrane - not to sound cliché, but these are records that belong in every jazz collection. This series seems geared primarily to folks not wishing to break the bank acquiring all sixteen LPs in their entirety or jazz aficionados seeking the ideal vehicle by which to convert their friends and family to their obsession. For listeners from these demographic segments it should be considered the aural equivalent of a gleaming golden ticket in a bar of Wonka chocolate.

Starting the tour with Miles Davis’ “Down” and the now legendary supporting cast of Rollins, MJQ mainstays Lewis and Heath, and Roy Haynes on sticks things kick off auspiciously. Listening to this tune and it’s follow-up, Rollins’ infectiously syncopated “Mambo Bounce,” it’s hard to fathom the reputation Prestige had as a second class label prone to slapdash blowing sessions. Instances of noticeable roughness do creep up in these pieces, but it’s tempered with a rollicking confidence that’s rare even in the most carefully rehearsed studio settings. Monk’s pair of three-minute masterpieces “Little Rootie Tootie” and “Bemsha Swing” are similarly spellbinding thanks mainly to the pianist’s already intensely original ivory hunting and the presence of either Blakey or Roach in the drum chair. Blakey’s signature press rolls incite the action on “Tootie” while Roach takes the honors on “Bemsha” stretching the beat to a near snapping point.

Two more from Davis turn the hands of time forward to 1953. “Compulsion” is arguably most famous for the addition of Charlie Parker (under the transparent moniker of Charlie Chan) on tenor and “When Lights Are Low” reconvenes the rhythm team of Lewis and Heath, this time with Roach carving out the rhythms behind the kit. Four tunes from 1954 follow Monk’s early reading of the near extemporaneous “Let’s Call This” including a brief solo run through of “Just A Gigolo” that is filled with just the right measure of shyness tinged with sadness. Coltrane takes things out on the tail end with four more beginning with briskly rendered “Sunday” and winding down with the ballad “You Say You Care,” backed by his favorite rhythm section of the moment, Garland, Chambers and Taylor. On the latter the early influence of Dexter Gordon is nakedly apparent both in his phrasing and tone.

Again, all of these tunes as well as the albums from which they originate are essential. As a reasonably priced sampler designed to pave the way for further purchases or as the ideal demulsifying soundtrack to a particularly harried drive to work this compilation definitely fits the bill. Pick this up for the friend or relative who’s still on the fence about the artistry of jazz.

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