Recent listening, current

Thursday, September 5, 2013

132. John Coltrane / Fearless Leader (2006)

Coltrane's Prestige albums have been available in various formats since the 1950s. Another chapter in the flood of repackaged Coltrane on CD, Fearless Leader places his earliest recordings as leader in chronological order. This allows serious listeners to study his development as composer, arranger, and stylist without having to track down the individual records. Moreover, by removing these recordings from their in-album sequences, they exist in a proper or at least more authentic musical context. They transcend the supposition that is imposed by arbitrary sequencing and stand their ground against one another, in the order they were created. Listening to the whole box, or at least a good chunk of it in one sitting, is a rewarding experience. From the outset, Coltrane's groups are well rehearsed and the arrangements are tight. Throughout the progression, it's exciting to hear Coltrane's tone become more sonorous, his technique sharper, more assured. In addition to the leader, there's Paul Chambers, Art Taylor, Red Garland, Mal Waldron, Freddie Hubbard, and others. We hear them take some excellent shots at the blues, as well as Coltrane's peerless balladry in classic chestnuts like "Lush Life" (Donald Byrd around the 9-minute mark, wow), and some early sheets of sound ("Black Pearls," "Russian Lullaby"). Across six discs, there's too much to discuss here. Somebody could, and several people have, written books on this music. The concept of the six-disc set, plus accompanying booklet with copious photos and notes, make it a really attractive package. Unless you want the individual albums, I'd say this is a core collection item.

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