Interplay, Prestige Records' new 5-CD set, containing early collaborative recordings of the peerless tenor saxophonist and visionary John Coltrane, serves two distinct purposes. The first is to offer an extraordinary collection of music that provides an excellent overview of the modern jazz scene during the fertile 1956-1958 period. The other - and arguably more important purpose to the legions of Coltrane faithful - is its rich delineation of the evolutionary process behind one of the most profoundly important and emotionally compelling artists this planet has ever seen.
Interplay is comprised of seven complete albums and three tracks from two others. All but one of the recording sessions took place between September of 1956 and September of 1957; the final one in March of 1958. In the prevalent style of this period, the sessions all contain a certain jam session context; and in fact, five of the albums were released without any specified leader - Tenor Conclave, Interplay for 2 Trumpets and 2 Tenors, The Cats, Wheelin' & Dealin' and Modern Jazz Survey 2 (reissued as Dakar under Coltrane's name). The other two - Cattin' with Coltrane and Quinichette, essentially a jam session "co-led" by Trane and Paul Quinichette; and Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane, Trane's last Prestige date not under his own leadership - retained the basic jam session feel. But actually, piano great Tommy Flanagan directed The Cats, and the brilliant pianist/composer Mal Waldron was not only musical director for Interplay and Wheelin' & Dealin', but his presence on Dakar and Cattin' also provided much of the cohesiveness to those dates. (The alternate versions of "Wheelin' and Dealin'" contained here were originally issued on Mal's The Dealers.)
Waldron also contributed 12 of the 34 compositions contained in this set, and performs on 20. Red Garland (5) and Tommy Flanagan (8) are the only other pianists. Waldron and Garland had considerable impact on Coltrane. Mal's tension-filled, edge-of-your-seat-excitement solo style and Red's blues drenched lyricism remained with Trane for the rest of his days. Garland was also Trane's bandmate in the Miles Davis Quintet during this time, and was his pianist of choice on all of his Prestige dates as leader.
The consistency of the other rhythm section members throughout this set also add to the cohesion and continuity that make it so much more than simply a collection of outstanding music. Paul Chambers and Doug Watkins share the bass duties for all but four tracks (Julian Euell handles those). Legendary drummer Art Taylor is on 21 tracks (including one track culled from his own Taylor's Wailers album), with three other drum masters - Jimmy Cobb, Louis Hayes and Ed Thigpen - sharing the remainder. Guitarist Kenny Burrell brings his formidable talents to eight tracks as a sideman in addition to the five under his co-leadership.
Following up on Prestige's heavily acclaimed 6-CD set Fearless Leader, which collected all of Coltrane's Prestige recordings as leader, Interplay is beautifully produced by Patrick Milligan and Cheryl Pawelski, featuring an extensive 60 page booklet with liner notes by noted historian Nat Hentoff, album notes by renowned Coltrane scholar Lewis Porter, the original album notes, and many rare photographs. The original sessions, produced by Bob Weinstock (except for Dakar by Teddy Charles) and recorded by the peerless Rudy Van Gelder have been remastered by Fantasy Studios' master engineer Joe Tarantino for the maximum in audio quality.