KENNY BURRELL & JOHN COLTRANE: ‘Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane’ (Craft Recordings)

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Although recorded in March 1958 for Prestige’s New Jazz imprint, guitarist Kenny Burrell and saxophonist John Coltrane’s self-titled collaboration album was shelved and didn’t surface until 1963, when both musicians’ careers were going in very different directions. By then, “Trane” had moved on from hard bop and was immersed in exploring modal jazz, which would eventually see him spearhead the avant-garde movement alongside fellow saxophone gladiators Eric Dolphy, Albert Ayler, and Ornette Coleman. By contrast, Detroit-born Burrell, dug deeper into a straight-ahead jazz pocket in the first half of the ‘60s while playing on records by artists as diverse as Jimmy Smith, Lalo Schifrin, and Aretha Franklin. 

Why Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane took five years to get released remains a mystery, though it’s possible that producer Bob Weinstock at Prestige Records wanted to record Coltrane as much as possible before he was snapped up by another label. (When Coltrane signed to Atlantic Records in 1959, Prestige had so many of his recordings stockpiled that they could cash in on the saxophonist’s fame, releasing a series of LPs throughout the 1960s).      

Despite waiting five years for a release, Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane proved to be a top-quality session rather than an also-ran. Its two protagonists were supported on this often overlooked project by rising Detroit pianist Tommy Flanagan along with Miles Davis’ then rhythm section; bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb. Flanagan contributes two swinging cuts, the propulsive ‘Freight Train’ and bluesy ‘Big Paul’: his presence is significant as he would go to feature on Trane’s momentous Giant Steps album recorded in 1959. 

Reissued on vinyl in a sturdy obi-strip adorned sleeve by Craft Recordings as part of the revived Original Jazz Classics series, Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane proves to be a quintessential late-’50s hard-bop-blowing session that’s well worth checking out: Burrell’s tasteful fretboard elegance with its pronounced blues inflections is the perfect foil to Coltrane’s scorching sheets of sound. The reissue is mastered from the original Rudy Van Gelder-recorded analogue mono master, though one track, ‘Lyresto,’ where there are several instances of tape dropout, reveals that the years are beginning to their toll on the recording’s sound quality. This minor blemish aside – which surely is to be expected in a 66-year-old record – Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane should be on the shopping list of any serious jazzhead.   

(CW)  4/5 

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