The blurb on the back cover puts it well: "Miles and Monk and Sonny and Trane. No second names necessary. Theirs are the faces on Mt. Rushmore for jazz in the fifties." Indeed, and this generous collection of material from the Prestige recordings of Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, and John Coltrane makes it clear why this was so. Here you can hear Davis, who was present at the birth of bebop as a member of Charlie Parker's early combos, starting to define what would become the "cool" school of jazz on compositions such as "Down" and "When Lights Are Low." Monk is, as always, in his own harmonic world on "Little Rootie Tootie" and the delightful "Bemsha Swing," a world that many of his contemporaries found confusing and forbidding, but from which Monk reached out to influence American music for decades to come. Sonny Rollins was something of a maverick as well, as the Caribbean flavors of "Mambo Bounce" and the driving "Valse Hot" demonstrate. And John Coltrane redefined the whole tenor saxophone vocabulary, as well as codifying a modal approach to harmony for the first time in jazz. His cascading solos on "Bass Blues" are like blueprints for an entirely new kind of jazz. There are many good jazz collections on the market, but few capture the spirit of a particular point in its history as well as this one does.
AllMusic Review by Rick Anderson