John Coltane: Side Steps Box Set


Given John Coltrane’s immense influence over modern jazz, it’s difficult to imagine him as a session player hired to augment the accompanists for the recordings of other musicians. But as Ashley Kahn notes in his beautifully-detailed essay included in this set’s booklet, the saxophonist had to pay his dues and pay his rent just like any other working musicians in the early stages of his career.

What John Coltrane ultimately did with the lessons he learned and taught himself, for the period from 1956 through 1958, is what elevated him to the jazz pantheon. The previously-released companion piece “Fearless Leader” arguably illustrates that aspect of his career more fully than this five CD box set, but this set demonstrates how even as he honed his chops, Coltrane was a commanding presence. Virtually all the music contained in this package is vintage jazz of the highest order, but when that readily-identifiable horn begins to sound, the music ceases to become mere background.

It doesn’t matter if Coltrane is in the midst off learning the means of complementing other horns, as when he recorded with Gene Ammons or, accommodating other instruments, in working with pianist Red Garland. Long before he played in the proverbial sheets of sound that earmarked his most exploratory work, or even when, during his second stint with Miles Davis, he took the final steps to fine tune his focus personally and professionally, the sound of this man’s saxophone is the definition of purity.

Besides further illustrating the power of the Coltrane legacy, the release of Side Steps is another significant act by the Concord Music Group to reaffirm the stature of the Prestige label  in the hierarchy of modern jazz record companies. The well-constructed, lavish packaging, teeming with classic images of artwork and photography as well as recording minutiae, is as much a reflection of the original creation of its classy music as a document to the growth of the giant within the genre to whom it is devoted.

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