Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, Fri., Dec. 8, 2006
Fearless Leader (Prestige)
After coming to prominence with Miles Davis' legendary mid-Fifties quintet, saxophonist John Coltrane went on to an unparalleled explosion of creativity over the next decade until his untimely death in 1967. This incredibly prolific period begins with the music in this beautifully packaged and thoroughly annotated 6-CD set. Recorded between May 1957 and December 1958, it documents all of Coltrane's marquee work for indie label Prestige Records. Over the course of nine recording sessions that became 11 LPs released from 1957 to 1965, Coltrane developed from an impressive musician into the foremost saxophonist in jazz. Already in evidence are the torrent of notes known as his "sheets of sound," which reached full flower a couple of years later on his legendary Atlantic album Giant Steps. On tunes such as "The Believer" and "Black Pearls" you can hear the stirrings of spirituality and freedom that characterized his most revered work for Impulse Records in the following decade. Coltrane was one of the loveliest balladeers ever, and generous helpings of his already distinctive style highlight Fearless Leader. As was common on Prestige albums of the era, much of the material is done in a loose, "blowin' session" format with the likes of Dallas pianist Red Garland and trumpeter Donald Byrd stretching out on blues and standards. Coltrane cut countless sessions for Prestige as a sideman during this period, but these sides as a leader set the template for the hallowed status he would soon attain.