‘Another Side of John Coltrane’ Reveals The Master as Sideman (ALBUM REVIEW)

The first time this writer saw the title Another Side of John Coltrane, some initial confusion set in because there is an Impulse! collection of John Coltrane ballads called The Gentle Side of John Coltrane, which did not seem to be a likely candidate for reissue.  In fact, they are indeed two separate and distinct projects. Craft Recordings continues to mine the vaults of late ‘50s Prestige and Riverside recordings as they did for Coltrane ’58 and the series of Miles Davis recordings with his first great quintet, the series Steamin’, Cookin’, Workin’, and Relaxin’; and other works they’ve issued for Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins. These recordings focus on Coltrane’s contributions as a sideman, revealing how he was beginning to shape his style as it spotlights some of his best work in sessions led by Miles DavisThelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Red Garland, Tadd Dameron, and Art Taylor. Another Side of John Coltrane will be offered on vinyl as a 2-LP set, on CD, and across digital platforms. There are limited vinyl pressings with bonus tracks not featured on the CD or digital versions as well. 

The collection is produced by Nick Phillips and mastered by the GRAMMY®-winning engineer Paul Blakemore. It also includes new liner notes by the award-winning journalist, author, and Jazz Journalists Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Doug Ramsey. Most Coltrane aficionados have heard most of these tracks, although the sound quality here is dramatically superior. Although the collection primarily centers on sessions captured between 1956–1957, the album also features one additional standout performance, recorded well into Coltrane’s career as a respected leader, the highly recognizable “Someday My Prince Will Come” which remains a classic for Miles, in part due to an otherworldly solo by Coltrane, who joined his former boss in the studio for two tracks on the subsequent 1961 LP, Someday My Prince Will Come.

Ahead of the release is the single, “Oleo,” another classic. The iconic Sonny Rollins based the composition on the chord structure of George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm.” This particular version, which appeared on Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, was recorded in October 1956 at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Hackensack, NJ, and features Davis on trumpet, Coltrane on tenor sax, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. The take opens with a false start, followed by brief chatter between the musicians before they launch into what became a hard-bop standard. Coltrane, famous for his emphatic entrances, makes one here, sheer power following Davis’ rather understated muted trumpet solo. Highlights from other Davis-led sessions, include a 1956 recording of the Rollins-penned “Airegin,” and Thelonious Monk’s classic “‘Round Midnight,” the latter captured in 1956, originally appeared on Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants, a time when Davis’ career started to assume a steep trajectory following his appearance at Newport Jazz that year. 

A collection of this type and this era would be remiss not to include the pairing of Coltrane with fellow saxophonist Sonny Rollins on the iconic “Tenor Madness”—the only known recording of the two saxophone giants together. This first appeared on Rollins’ synonymous 1956 album. Listen carefully for the two different tenor styles – Coltrane already more aggressive and explorative while Rollins delivers cleaner, more detailed melodic improvisations. It is near the end when they trade four-bar phrases where this becomes most apparent. 

The other giant from this period is Thelonious Monk. While the two titans only recorded a handful of sessions together—all of which occurred in ’57—those subsequent albums remain as treasured works. This collection includes the ballad “Monk’s Mood” (off Thelonious Himself), in which the two are accompanied by bassist Wilbur Ware, as well as the Monk standard “Epistrophy” (off Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane), featuring Ware on bass, Ray Copeland on trumpet, Gigi Gryce on alto sax, Art Blakey on drums, as well as Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins on tenor sax.

Other highlights in this collection include “Soultrane” with pianist and composer Tadd Dameron from 1957’s Mating Call, which has since garnered considerable attention.  Listeners will also enjoy the interplay between Coltrane and drummer Art Taylor on “C.T.A.,” off 1957’s Taylor’s Wailers, as well as a cut with pianist Red Garland, on “Billie’s Bounce,” off 1957’s Dig It!

Keep in mind these are not the earliest Coltrane recordings as he had launched his career a decade earlier, sharing the stage with leaders like King Kolax and Jimmy Heath, followed by Dizzy Gillespie, Johnny Hodges, and even his idol, Charlie Parker. Having begun his career on alto, it was perhaps through working with Parker that he made the switch to tenor. Yet, his career took a major leap when Miles Davis invited him to join what later became known as his “First Great Quintet,” in 1955, along with Garland, Chambers, and Jones. This was the band that recorded Relaxin’, Workin’, Steamin’, and Cookin’ over the next two years for Prestige.

Coltrane, recorded in May 1957 marked his first album as a leader and was soon followed by such early landmarks as Lush Life, Soultrane (both 1958), and Giant Steps (1960). While we all know what followed, this document sheds light on Coltrane developing his “sheets of sound” style. Although that style isn’t present in these mostly foundational 1957 takes, one can hear his aggressive daring approach to soloing, revealing a singular inventiveness that has still, these many years later, remained virtually unmatched.

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