Tenor Madness and All That Jazz

On several occasions in the past few years, the Fantasy group has taken the lead from their Japanese counterparts, reissuing special edition titles in 20-bit form. The latest items to come from this series are taken exclusively from the Prestige catalog and focus entirely on material from the early to late '50s. As with past issues, these sets come in a cardboard slipcase and are limited editions. Furthermore, they feature originals graphics, a facsimile CD label, and 20-bit remastering supervised by Tamaki Beck at JVC Studios.

Most of JOHN COLTRANE'S classic Prestige sides were recorded in the company of pianists Red Garland or Mal Waldron. Both men are to be heard on the 1957 sessions assembled for COLTRANE (Prestige 7105). In addition, obscure trumpeter Johnnie Splawn and baritone saxophonist Sahib Shihab are featured on a few cuts. "While My Lady Sleeps" and "Straight Street" are just two of the gems included that have become standards, Trane's innovative musings heard to great advantage thanks to the visionary sound engineering of Rudy Van Gelder.

Coltrane's tenor could also be heard to great advantage on many of RED GARLAND'S Prestige classics. Most famous of these "jam sessions" are the three lengthy cuts that make up Garland's ALL MORNIN' LONG (Prestige 7130). Donald Byrd, George Joyner, and Arthur Taylor round out the assembled crew and each one these musicians gets ample space for blowing. Nothing earthshaking or pretentious here, just solid mainstream fare that has stood the test of time.

It's remarkable how a change in personnel can bring forth a transformation in musical attitude. On the surface, KENNY BURRELL AND JOHN COLTRANE (New Jazz 8276) looks like yet another blowing session, but the presence of Tommy Flanagan gives things a lyrical and substantive twist that makes this one of Coltrane's most pleasing appearances for Prestige. "Why Was I Born" and "Lyresto" also put Burrell in a glowing light, his mellifluous solo moments standing in sharp contrast to Coltrane's more incendiary approach.

Right between his early Blue Note sides and his celebrated Riverside recordings, pianist THELONIOUS MONK'S Prestige sessions somehow get lost in the shuffle. That's a shame because there's much to be gleaned by hearing Monk further develop his early originals and add more classics to his catalog. If you haven't opted for a recently compiled boxed set of Monk's Prestige material, you might want to check out THELONIOUS MONK TRIO (Prestige 7027). Working with two trios, one with Max Roach and the other with Art Blakey, Monk is let loose in an unfettered setting that conclusively shows how the pianist thrived in such environs. You get "Little Rootie Tootie," "Blue Monk," "Bemsha Swing," and several more treats. For extra sustenance, compare these trio performances with Herbie Nichols' Blue Note sides, also cut in the company of drummers Roach and Blakey.

No stranger to the 20-bit treatment, MILES DAVIS' catalog has been mined to great effect. BAGS' GROOVE (Prestige 7109) needs very little introduction. The Christmas Eve sessions of 1954 have become the stuff of legend, all taking place in the living room of legendary recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder. Milt Jackson becomes the namesake of one of the most famous jam tunes in the jazz cannon and Sonny Rollins is on board for spirited romps through "Oleo" and "Doxy." One of four titles to collect the feisty work of Davis' quartet with John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones, RELAXIN' WITH THE MILES DAVIS QUINTET (Prestige 7129) is another record that just has to be in any Davis collection. A few finger snaps, Garland's piano intro and Davis' muted trumpet brings on "If I Were a Bell" and the goose bump factor hits a solid 10!

A virtual musical institution for several decades, the MODERN JAZZ QUARTET defined a third stream where classical sensibilities could blend imaginatively with jazz harmonies and improvisation. Just prior to the group's landmark series of Atlantic sides were a few records for producer Bob Weinstock and Prestige. CONCORDE (Prestige 7005) introduced the standard line-up with drummer Connie Kay taking the place of founding member Kenny Clarke. The April 1955 session yielded six tracks and while none of the tunes really caught on, Milt Jackson's "Ralph's New Blues" makes its debut. Even at this early stage, the contrast between Jackson's bluesy outlook and John Lewis' formal elegance yields a fusion where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Largely influenced by tragic hero Charlie Parker, alto saxophonist JACKIE MCLEAN emerged with a style almost fully formed and few players since have rivaled his tart and incendiary approach. 4, 5 AND 6 (Prestige 7048), from 1956, was McLean's third session as a leader for Prestige and arguably his most mature statement up to that point. Mal Waldron, Doug Watkins, and Art Taylor form a well-oiled rhythm team that supports McLean's flights of fancy. Even vaguely maudlin items like "Sentimental Journey" and "When I Fall In Love" take on a biting and animated stance that gives the entire date a mature feeling that goes beyond the jam session mentality common at that time. Plus, hints toward the future can be found in the originals "Contour" and "Abstraction."

To say that tenor titan SONNY ROLLINS was a prolific artist during the '50s and '60s would be an understatement to say the very least. Dozens of masterpieces abound among the Riverside, Contemporary, Impulse, and Prestige catalogs. For the latter named label, TENOR MADNESS (Prestige 7047) is unanimously considered a tour de force by anyone's standard and is even more significant considering that it contains the only recorded meeting of Rollins and John Coltrane. The classic Garland/Chambers/Jones team provides Herculean support and Sonny's "Paul's Pal" takes a bow. Enough said!

Finally, we come to one of the most sublime articles from the Prestige vaults. With the intensely lyrical approach that was part and parcel of trumpeter KENNY DORHAM'S enigmatic style at a premium, QUIET KENNY (New Jazz 8225) manages to be pretty and substantive at the same time. Dorham takes his time and explores melodic nuances in the company of Tommy Flanagan, Paul Chambers, and Art Taylor. "Lotus Blossom" is the best-known composition of the lot, but each of the eight performances holds more than its share of rewards. No wonder current players such as Brian Lynch and Ryan Kisor name QUIET KENNY among their favorite trumpet and rhythm section recordings of all time.

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