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Matthew Ruddick

Author of Funny Valentine, an acclaimed new biography of the jazz trumpet player and singer, Chet Baker.
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Tuesday, 05 December 2023 01:57

John Coltrane with Eric Dolphy – Evenings At The Village Gate

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Fascinating, but for collectors and completists only.

As most jazz fans will be aware, John Coltrane worked extensively with multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy in 1961, most famously producing his first studio album for Impulse!, Africa/Brass, but also two live albums that stemmed from their 1961 appearance at the Village Vanguard in New York – “Live” at the Village Vanguard and Impressions. Many years late, in 1997, Impulse! issued a stunning four-CD box set capturing music from all four nights at the Vanguard that had been recorded, entitled The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings. It makes for essential listening.

This new release is essentially a bootleg of an earlier New York performance by the band, this time at the Village Gate. It was recorded after Africa/Brass, in August 1961, just before Dolphy left the band (temporarily) to go on tour in Europe. It captures Coltrane in full experimental mode, moving away from his “sheets of sound” towards more extended modal structures, employing drone-like techniques and elements of folk music, too. At time, he also employs two bass players here, Reggie Workman and Art Davis, with a view to producing a drone effect.

The sound man at the Village Gate was experimenting with recording at the club and set up a microphone close to drummer, Elvin Jones. Long story short – the tapes were lost, then re-discovered at the New York Public Library sound archives. But it was not originally intended for public release, and does sound like a bootleg.

There’s much to enjoy here, from a fresh take on My Favorite Things, with Dolphy on flute, an early take of Impressions, which would not be released for a while, and an extended version of Greensleeves, too, which had yet to be released in studio form. The sleeve notes from Coltrane biographer, Ashley Kahn (and others) are informative and interesting, and there are some photographs and adverts for the shows, too.

So why only three stars? First up, the sound is quite poor. McCoy Tyner’s piano is buried deep in the mix, and hard to pick out unless Jones holds back, and the bass lines are also quite indistinct. In addition, Coltrane and Dolphy often wander away from the microphone, too. There are also times when the experimentation doesn’t come off, most notably during a bass solo in Africa/Brass. So it makes for an interesting listen, but not an essential listen. I would rather buy any of the other Dolphy-related sets ahead of this, and indeed most of the other Impulse! albums too. For that reason, this album is probably for collectors and completists only. A fascinating listen, but one I probably won’t return to that often.


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