John Coltrane: The Master

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This well-packaged EJC reissue rounds out the four tracks of the original July 1958 Prestige The Master (“Don’t Take Your Love Away From Me”, I’ll Get By”, “Spring Is Here” and “Invitation”) with the remaining material cut at the session. The result is 70 or so minutes of top-quality late-1950s Coltrane, in the company of two-thirds of the superb rhythm section with whom, from 1955 onwards, Miles Davis and this surpassing saxophonist cut so many fine sides for Prestige and Columbia (with Cobb taking the place of Philly Joe Jones here).

Wilbur Harden (1924-1969) was no Miles, his breadth and depth of tone on both trumpet and flugelhorn suggesting more of a tempered affinity with Clifford Brown. He offers a pleasing number of effective, essentially mid-range solos here, epitomised by his work on “Don’t Take Your Love”,  “Invitation”, “Stardust” and “I’m a Dreamer”. An associate of Coltrane, Curtis Fuller and Yusef Lateef, Harden was one of the unlucky ones: some months after this session he became seriously ill and played no more until his untimely death a decade later.

As mellow and authoritative as Harden, Garland, Chambers and Cobb are – Garland’s bounce and Cobb’s groove are a dream and Chambers’ arco gets fine outings on “Stardust” and “Dreamer” – Coltrane is the main man throughout. His tone on tenor – more fruit than flint – is a thing of wonder, often set in service of phrasing which presages the lyricism of his early-1960s Ballads and With Johnny Hartman sessions for Impulse!. Hear, especially, the relaxed melodic flow of “Stardust” and “My Ideal” or the suspended time feel he brings to an especially yearning reading of “Invitation” – for me, the outstanding track here, together with the gorgeously swinging “Spring Is Here”, on which Chambers’s pizzicato shines.

Several cuts, e.g., “Don’t Take Your Love”, “Spring”, “Neighbour” and “Dreamer”, find Coltrane cultivating those “sheets of sound” which would find definitive expression on his first session as leader for Atlantic, the epochal Giant Steps of 1959. Employing such exploratory figures as he does, the Coltrane we meet here remains some considerable distance from the later master of Impulse! albums such as Live at the Village VanguardImpressions and A Love Supreme. For some, that might well enhance further the appeal of The Master, a lovely disc full of pleasing things from start to finish.

Discography
Don’t Take Your Love Away From Me; I’ll Get By; Spring Is Here; Invitation; Stardust; Love the Neighbour; I’m a Dreamer, Aren’t We All?; My Ideal (69.48)
Coltrane (ts); Wilbur Harden (t, flh); Red Garland (p); Paul Chambers (b); Jimmy Cobb (d). Hackensack, N.J., 11 July 1958.
Essential Jazz Classics 55737