John Coltrane – Coltrane, Live At The Village Vanguard – Impulse Records/ ORG Ltd. Edition 180 gram audiophile virgin vinyl 45 rpm (2 discs) Original Recordings Group 011 *****:
(John Coltrane – tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; McCoy Tyner – piano; Reggie Workman – bass; Elvin Jones – drums; Eric Dolphy – bass clarinet)
After World War II, John Coltrane returned to Philadelphia, and played in a succession of bands. In 1949 he joined Dizzy Gillespie, changing to tenor saxophone. He would become associated with other bands, until 1955, when he became a featured player with the iconic Miles Davis Quintet. That union lasted five years. Finally, Coltrane was compelled to form his own combo to express his burgeoning musical vision. The success of My Favorite Things bolstered his confidence and newly acquired passion for global musical themes.
The lineup in John Coltrane Quartet was finalized in 1961. McCoy Tyner (piano), also from the Philadelphia jazz scene, joined the group. Elvin Jones (drums) and Reggie Workman (bass) rounded out the configuration. Multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy was invited to play with the quartet in mid-1961, as Coltrane searched for right venue to do a live recording. The Village Vanguard, in the creative atmosphere of Greenwich Village, became the location for an historical session.
Coltrane’s shifting narrative form, engaging in idiosyncratic free- form arrangements, confounded and delighted jazz critics and fans. Live At The Village Vanguard includes two extended improvisations that highlight the mystical imagery of this introspective artist. “Spiritual” begins with a moody opening on tenor saxophone that settles into a tight groove. The piano, drum and bass form a steady backdrop to Coltrane’s emotional lines. Eric Dolphy stretches out on the bass clarinet, pushing the lower register in a series of harmonic trills. Tyner provides a discerning counterpoint to the woodwind auditory themes with a flowing lyrical solo. His timing and chord selection is stirring. Coltrane switches over to soprano saxophone and turns up the intensity with stirring runs that belie the limitations of the instrument. “Chasing The Trane” is an inspired blues romp. An improvisational piece, Coltrane explores melody and tempo in fluid exciting runs. He is pushing his instrument beyond its normal range. The drumming of Jones is both inventive and cohesive as he navigates the subtle rhythm changes with flair. This track captures the “live” feel of this set, as the interplay of the band is self assured and palpable.
As with many of Coltrane’s albums, a popular standard, “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” is covered. McCoy Tyner delivers a sparkling, harmonic solo that showcases his versatility. His impeccable timing and cascade-laden technique is uplifting. Coltrane once again solos on the tricky soprano saxophone, managing to produce smooth, consistent tonality.
Side D consists of a “No EQ” version of “Chasin’’ The Trane. A different number or alternate take would have been more appropriate. For those fans who want more, Impulse has released a four disc set, The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings.
The 45 rpm ORG sound quality is impeccable. The saxophone and bass clarinet seem more vibrant and lucid in tone. The actual details of the musical notation are more vivid than in the CD version. The glossy packaging is luxurious, and the heavy duty gatefold jacket represent a qualitative commitment to excellence.
Side A: Spiritual; Side B: Softly As In A Morning Sunrise
Side C: Chasin’ The Trane; Side D: Chasin’ The Trane (No EQ)
— Robbie Gerson