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John Coltrane

Side Steps (Prestige Records)

Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, Fri., Dec. 11, 2009

Box Sets

John Coltrane

Side Steps (Prestige)

John Coltrane's 12-year recording career was so bountiful. Although not as qualitatively distinct as his later work with the Atlantic and Impulse labels, the dozens of recordings by the saxophonist as both a leader and sideman for Prestige Records provide an extraordinary spotlight on his development into the tenor titan he soon became. Side Steps is the third and final box set documenting the North Carolina-born horn man's formative work as a sideman for the label (separate from his albums with Miles Davis' Quintet). This beautifully packaged, extensively annotated 5-CD set collects 43 tracks covering 1956 to 1958, when Coltrane was a ubiquitous gun-for-hire. Most of the session leaders are pianists – Tadd Dameron, Elmo Hope, Mal Waldron, Red Garland – though Coltrane's only recording with Sonny Rollins, Tenor Madness, is here, along with a four-saxophone conclave headed by Gene Ammons and including Pepper Adams and Paul Quinichette. The session led by tuba player Ray Draper is particularly intriguing. Other top-shelf sidemen joining Coltrane on various dates are trumpeter Donald Byrd, sax men Hank Mobley and Jackie McLean, and Miles Davis Quintet rhythm section Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones. Like too many Prestige dates of the era, these are casual blowin' sessions, with musicians stretching out on blues originals and well-worn standards. This has its limitations, but Coltrane is impressive throughout, giving birth to his torrential "sheets of sound." Standing alongside previous box sets Fearless Leader (2006) and Interplay (2007), Side Steps completes a formidable triumvirate.

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