It is Garland's distinctive use of block chords that stamp his playing as unique. He first gained fame in the ‘50s with the acclaimed and influential Miles Davis Quintet, the group which also propelled tenor sax player John Coltrane to prominence. After he left Davis, Garland formed his own popular trio in the ‘60s.
In 1957, however, while he was still with Davis, Garland recorded a series of quintet sessions for Prestige under his leadership. Prestige has recently re-released a CD, "The Best of Red Garland's Quintets," which contains four tracks with Coltrane on tenor, Donald Byrd, trumpet, George Joyner, bass and Art Taylor, drums. Two tracks on the CD, however,are from a 1961 session with Oliver Nelson, tenor, Richards Williams, trumpet, Peck Morrison, bass, and Charlie Persip, drums. At that time Nelson was on his way to becoming a major arranger and was developing his own Coltrane-influenced solo style. It's a treat to hear these historic recording again.
Particularly gratifying is to hear Garland and Coltrane apart from the more controlled atmosphere of the Davis group. Here, they have time to stretch out in their solos. This is particularly true in the 15-minute blues, "Soul Junction." The track has a definite "after hours" feeling. Listeners should just lie back, relax, and let Garland's delicious chords wash over them. When Coltrane comes in, his sound is just as soulful. Byrd follows with a sharp "wake up" call on trumpet, before settling into the same easy-going groove.
Other selections with this grouping are takes on jazz standards-Charlie Parker's lively "Billie Bounce," with a blazing solo by Coltrane; Duke Ellington's mellow "Solitude" and Tadd Dameron's "Our Delight," with Byrd's break-neck solo clearly influenced by Clifford Brown.
The two tracks featuring tenor Nelson and trumpeter Williams are Benny Goodman's blues-tinged "Soft Winds," and Bronislau Kaper's movie theme, "On Green Dolphin Street," a tune which was to become a jazz standard. On "Dolphin" Nelson particularly comes on strong with a gutsy, but melodic solo, which, appropriately, shows his Coltrane influence.