In the mid-'50s the smart money would have been on Sonny Rollins, not John Coltrane, to be the era's greatest innovator. On the earliest cuts of "The Complete Columbia Recordings," a six-CD set that covers 1955-61, Coltrane is still working in the hardbop tradition -- a more emphatically phrased version of 1940's bebop. It's hard to hear how Trane sounded to mid-'50s ears. There are hints of the glories to come. But back then he struck some people as a musician who was somewhat overeager and slightly awkward.
But not Miles Davis, who was already reaching his first peak, perfecting the less-is-more style that would serve him well into the '60s. On a cut as early as "Bye Bye Blackbird" (1956), he displays complete mastery of his singular approach. The high point is, of course, the cuts from the "Kind of Blue" sessions (1959). Bliss it was, and bliss it is.