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Classic Hard Bop from Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane Highlights the Latest Installment of Craft Recordings' OJC Reboot

06-04-2024 | By Tom Gibbs | Issue 133

Craft Recordings' release schedule rolls along in the second group of reissue titles for 2024 in their Original Jazz Classics (OJC) franchise reboot, featuring their latest, 1963's Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane on Prestige Records' New Jazz imprint. Guitarist Kenny Burrell and saxophonist John Coltrane are co-leaders on the hard bop session, which showcases one of a handful of collaborations by the pair of preeminent jazz artists since they both played in Dizzy Gillespie's band almost a decade earlier. Coltrane and Burrell also teamed up for the 1957 recording The Cats, which has already been released as part of Craft's OJC reissue series; you can read my review of that superb album HERE. Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane finds them in a quintet session that was recorded in a single day in March 1958, as Coltrane was nearing the end of his tenure with the Miles Davis Quintet. While the album was originally released in mono; five years after its debut, it was repackaged in a stereo LP version with a different cover that has remained in print over the years¹. But other than the OJC reissue of the original mono LP in 1987, it's been out of print domestically for almost forty years, making this new Craft reissue very welcome, indeed! First edition pressings are going for anywhere from $80 for G and G+ rated copies to closer to $180 for VG and VG+ rated copies on Discogs, which makes the $39 MSRP of this new LP reissue quite the bargain.

Matthew Lutthans cut the new lacquers for Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane from the original analog tapes at Cohearent Audio, and the all analog, AAA LP was pressed on 180-gram vinyl at RTI. Craft's OJC LP reissues are housed in near-perfect replicas of the original, heavy tip-on outer jackets, with crisp artwork sourced from Craft and Concord's vaults. Adding a level of distinction to the OJC reissue series, the album jacket also features a really cool custom OBI strip. The 180 gram LP arrived inserted into a rice paper inner sleeve, which is a perfectionist touch that helps keep the LP free from paper dust accumulation and guards against scratches and static buildup. The outstanding packaging of this reissue will add significantly to its desirability to collectors. A high resolution 24-bit/192kHz digital download will also be available for purchase and digital streaming on most major online services. You can pre-order a copy of Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane from Craft Recordings' web store HERE, and it will also be available at online retailers or your local independent record store.

Kenny Burrell/John Coltrane, Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane. 180 Gram LP, New Jazz Records, $39 MSRP

Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane was recorded at the Van Gelder Studio in Hackensack, New Jersey in a single day on March 7, 1958. As was typical with most Prestige (and their subsidiaries) sessions, many albums' worth of material was cranked out in fairly short order by the artists present in the studio, and the resulting albums often weren't released until much later. And often when the powers at Prestige felt their release would most benefit the label. Which in the case of Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane was five years from the date of the recording, when John Coltrane's series of records for the Impulse! label were becoming immensely popular—even though the style of his playing here was nowhere near the level of intensity as what he was creating for Creed Taylor and Bob Thiele at Impusle!. And regardless that journeyman guitarist Kenny Burrell shares the billing here with Coltrane, there's no doubt from listening to Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane that much of the focus is on Trane's superb sax work. 

In addition to Kenny Burrell's guitar and Coltrane's tenor sax, the group of players they assembled for this session included Tommy Flanagan, who was a superb pianist and a regular in Coltrane sessions, as well as playing on Kenny Burrell's first five albums as a leader. A Detroit native (as were Burrell and Chambers), Flanagan was a fixture on the New York jazz scene from the Fifties and beyond, and was an excellent musician who deserves a greater degree of recognition than he's ever gotten. The rhythm section featured two players with whom Coltrane had a great deal of experience with, especially during his tenure with Miles Davis, including bassist Paul Chambers, one of the foremost masters of his instrument, who contributed his inimitable mix of plucked and bowed fretwork to the proceedings. And Jimmy Cobb's excellent stick and brush work behind the drum kit rounded out the session. Of course, Rudy Van Gelder engineered the album, which was produced by Prestige's Bob Weinstock. Again, even though Coltrane's playing was in a different stratosphere by the time Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane was eventually released in 1963, Downbeat's Harvey Pekar still gave the album five stars in his review.

Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane contains a mix of standards and originals, with Burrell contributing his own "Lyresto," and pianist Flanagan offering a pair of compositions. Including "Freight Trane," which serves as a perfect vehicle for Trane's tenor artistry, and its closer, "Big Paul," which is an homage to bassist Paul Chambers, and offers him plenty of room for a pair of excellent solos. Side one opens with "Freight Trane," where Burrell and Trane play in tandem to double the tune's opening, which Trane immediately follows with a lengthy but riveting tenor solo. Burrell, Flanagan, and Chambers all follow suit, as Cobb's excellent drum work paces the proceedings. Burrell slows the pace for a version of Gus Kahn's "I Never Knew," which was popularized through versions from Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee. Burrell's lead is a clinic in tasteful jazz guitar, and he's followed by equally effective solos from Coltrane and Flanagan, then Chambers and Cobb trade licks, finally relinquishing again to Burrell, who brings the tune to its conclusion. Tommy Flanagan sets the stage for Burrell's "Lyresto," an uptempo number where Coltrane surprisingly takes the lead; everyone else then takes a solo turn, including Jimmy Cobb, who finally cuts loose furiously!

Side two opens with a fairly brief but poignant rendition of the Oscar Hammerstein/Jerome Kern chestnut "Why Was I Born?", which features a duet of only Burrell and Coltrane, and their playing is beautifully entwined in what is definitely one of this album's highlights. The performance reaches such a level of perfection, I'm astonished that this recording alone isn't mentioned as one of the great duets in jazz history. The album's lengthiest tune, Flanagan's "Big Paul," opens with a plucked solo from the man himself, which then segues into a nice statement of the tune's main theme led by Flanagan's piano. Coltrane eventually takes the helm for an extended tenor turn; Burrell chimes in briefly, then Chambers again offers another stellar bass solo as Flanagan takes the tune home, bringing the album to its conclusion.

The OJC Reboot Series Continues to Shine with Each New Release

Clicking on my name in the header above will reveal the equipment I used to evaluate Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane, as well as all the equipment that resides in my dual audio systems. As with all mono LPs, Craft's new reissue was played on my tube-based, all analog system using my heavily modified Rega Planar 2 turntable that's fitted with an Ortofon 2M Mono cartridge. My PS Audio Stellar phono preamp provided the signal to the PrimaLuna EVO 300 tube integrated amplifier, which has been recently upgraded with a new, matched quad of Sovtek 6550 power tubes and a matched pair of Apos RAY 12AU7 input tubes. This glorious tube setup plays into a new pair of Vanguard Scout standmount loudspeakers in tandem with a Caldera 10 subwoofer. The new tubes have enhanced the sound infinitely, allowing me to aurally step back in time for a more vintage reproduction of classic jazz albums. And playing mono albums on a mono-equipped table always results in an uptick in overall sound quality.

Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane is another "wide" mono recording from Van Gelder Studios, where the sound isn't just limited to a very narrow window in the center of the soundstage. It's amazing how well the original tapes have held up for an album that's over sixty years old, and there's very little tape hiss present in the sound. That said, there are several noticeable dropouts in the album, some of them with a duration of a second or two. The dropouts are obviously present on the original master tapes, and as this is an all-analog reissue, the decision appears to have been made to leave them in versus a digital reconstruction to minimize their noticeability. It's only noticeable in a few spots, and it's definitely a better trade-off (in my opinion, at least) to retain the LP's AAA status—it is what it is. Regardless, you get a superb impression of realism here; I don't think I've ever heard Coltrane recorded by Prestige where he sounds as live and in the room as he does here on this record, it's pretty astonishing! The recorded sound presents really deep, tight bass, and plenty of the superb analog warmth that Van Gelder's vintage recordings were noted for. Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane is one of the best-sounding of the new Craft OJC's yet!

Obviously, I'm continually impressed with this excellent reissue series, and Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane will make a worthy addition to anyone's collection of classic jazz, warts and all. And while it may be a step into the past compared to the sound of Trane from A Love Supreme and everything else from his Impulse! catalog of the mid-Sixties and forward, it's still a fine recording in its own right, and an entertaining listen. The RTI pressing displayed beautifully glossy surfaces, was perfectly free of defects, and there was no noise of any kind. Kudos to Matthew Lutthans for his excellent remastering of this classic reissue LP, which will very likely exceed the sound quality of the originals or even the OJC reissue from 1987—especially at the prices those are fetching on Discogs. Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane comes very highly recommended!

Craft Recordings


All images courtesy of Craft Recordings and the author.

¹ I haven't been able to ascertain if Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane was actually also recorded in stereo, or if the original mono tapes were rechanneled for the subsequent stereo reissues.