These half-dozen tracks from November 30, 1956 -- containing what would be John Coltrane's final studio outing of the year -- find the tenor saxophonist in the company of Tadd Dameron (piano), John Simmons (bass), and Philly Joe Jones (drums). Recordings have been issued with Coltrane's name outranking or insinuating that he is the session leader. However Dameron not only offers up some exceptional interplay against Coltrane, the pianist actually supplied 10-percent of the top-shelf material. The unmistakable rat-a-tat-tat of Philly Joe Jones opens the exotic "Mating Call." Dameron almost immediately responds on the seductive verse that sets the pace. Coltrane bursts through with confident soul asDameron occasionally interjects his own animated punctuation. By comparison, the pianist takes his turn with consideration and subdued introspection. Yet Dameron steers clear of a mini duet between himself and Jones prior to the final reprise of the chorus. As a sidebar: parties who revel in the production work of Rudy Van Gelder are encouraged to spin "Mating Call"'s echoplex-laden fade out for some old-school excitement.
It remains unknown whether Dameron titled the lovely and melodic "Gnid" after the acronym for the social-disease yielding "Gram-Negative Intracellular Diplococci." The name aside, "Gnid" features the ensemble at their collective best. The uniform guidance of Dameron and Coltrane is explored immediately as they unfurl the spry theme before taking the respective reigns. The pianist's solo reveals hints of Duke Ellington's "Take the 'A' Train" as a build up to Coltrane's inventive and playful counterpoint. "Soultrane" may well be Dameron's greatest gift to Coltrane as the ballad is custom-built for the tenor player's tender yet empathetic sonic terminology. Nowhere is this more evident than when the rhythm hits double-time with a lack of competition from the bandstand, while Coltrane takes the combo around corners with acuity and fluidity to spare. Giving props to the pop songbook standard "September in the Rain," Dameron's "On a Misty Night" is a study in contrasts. Coltrane embraces the singsong quality of the chorus in broad, hearty strokes. On the other hand, Dameron's playing has a Thelonious Monk feel in places -- especially as the swinging backbeat vacillates in and out of a double-time pattern. The sturdy blues of "Romas" has Dameron calling the shots with a stealth-like vibe that Coltrane fleshes out in the ensuing instrumental banter.
As if building up to a high-energy conclusion, "Super Jet" is an outright bop-inspired vehicle into the pure improvisational nature of jazz. Coltrane is beginning to show signs of his mile-a-minute phrasing that would later become known as "sheets of sound." Dameron loses none of the momentum during his response and finally, Jones gets a chance to trade licks with Coltrane as the pair demonstrate their uncanny ability to complete -- or at the very least complement -- each other's performances.