Concord Music Group News

NEWS 27 Aug 2007

Prestige Records Releases Interplay, A Remarkable 5 CD Box Set of John Coltrane’s Early Collaborative Sessions Available September 18, 2007

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.

With all great musicians, the message is fully contained in the music, and the message of John Coltrane is one of powerful humanism, deep spirituality, unflinching emotion, relentless searching and supreme love.  Interplay offers a most revealing roadmap to the early days of discovery in his unparalleled quest.  One can misinterpret the astonishing focus and commitment that Coltrane had as being singular or even self-absorbed; but that is totally off-base.  Coltrane was incredibly multi-faceted, a man of many interests in the pursuit of knowledge – both subjective and objective – who absorbed everything in his vision.  In these recordings, surrounded by many of the finest musicians of the era, the listener can actually experience directly how Trane responds to his colleagues, transforming his own musical concepts to perfectly contribute to each environment in which he finds himself.

Despite his powerfully distinctive tone, with its molten emotional flesh-and-blood core that always contradicted the horn’s metallic substance, his presence on these recordings never diminishes the contributions of his collaborators.  Like a great basketball player, his stunning talents bring out the best in his teammates, lifting the music to a level of transcendence beyond its genre.  It’s the same game, but at a higher level within the imposed confines of the rules of order that govern it.

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.

One unusual element contained in Interplay is hearing Trane in the company of so many other hornmen.  Normally, he recorded as the sole horn, sometimes with one other soloist and on one occasion with two.  Here, he is one of three or four horns on more than half the tracks, including five exceptional tenor saxophonists.  In addition to Quinichette on Cattin’ and Wheelin & Dealin’, hard-bop titan Hank Mobley and the renowned tandem of Al Cohn and Zoot Sims comprise the titular Tenor Conclave; and Belgian-born Bobby Jaspar performs on Interplay.  Hearing Trane’s interaction with tenor players (excluding Mobley) so steeped in the lyrical Lester Young style is particularly revealing and testimony to Coltrane’s own beautiful approach to lyricism.

The amazingly nimble and lyrical flute of Frank Wess is heavily featured on Wheelin’ & Dealin’.  Two excellent but underrated trumpeters – Webster Young and Idrees Sulieman – are on Interplay, with Sulieman also participating as one of The Cats.  Much of Dakar’s unusual and uniquely attractive context comes from the presence of a pair of baritone sax masters, Cecil Payne and the incredible Pepper Adams.  Another item of particular interest is hearing Coltrane with a guitarist.  While it’s relatively unknown that Trane had considered adding Wes Montgomery to his quartet in 1960,  he never used a guitar in his own groups.  The five tracks sharing the front line with Burrell are made even more fascinating by the inclusion of their sensitive duet on Why Was I Born, the only known duet recording Trane ever made with a chordal instrument.

The repertoire in Interplay covers a lot of ground, combining Great American Songbook Standards (How Deep Is the Ocean, I Never Knew, Why Was I Born) with Jazz classics(Things Ain’t What They Used to Be, Robbins’ Nest) and originals by Flanagan, Mobley, Burrell, Jimmy Heath, Teddy Charles and Waldron, including a 17+ minute version of his gorgeous Soul Eyes. 

From the biographical/historical perspective it’s important to realize that at the time of these recordings Coltrane was in the midst of his legendary stint with Thelonious Monk at the Five Spot, had just rejoined the Miles Davis Quintet and was embarking upon a personal realization and spiritual awakening that would take him to heights of immortality unapproachable by any but the most extraordinary of human beings.  His evolution and development over the next – and final – ten years of his life are without equal in both prolificacy and progressiveness.  To this very day, his impact upon musicians, artists of all disciplines, and individuals in all walks of life has been not only extreme, but in many ways, of biblical proportion.

Interplay represents a highly significant early stage of that process.  Even in its raw youthfulness, that fascinating combination of lyrical beauty and serenity juxtaposed against relentless exploration and passionate intensity was always at play.  For those who have embraced his journey, these early recordings are revelatory and essential in understanding what came later.  For those who just love great jazz, Interplay is pure pleasure.

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 reputed 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.




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