Coltrane “Live” at the Village Vanguard is the tenth album by jazz musician John Coltrane and his first live album, released in 1962 on Impulse Records, catalogue A-10. It is the first album to feature the members of the classic quartet of himself with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones. In contrast to his previous album for Impulse!, this one generated much turmoil among both critics and audience alike with its challenging music.
In 1961, Coltrane created controversy both with the hiring of Eric Dolphy and with the kind of music his band was playing. In reaction to the Quintet’s residency at the Village Vanguard in New York City starting in late October 1961, Down Beat critic John Tynan described the group as “musical nonsense being peddled in the name of jazz” and “a horrifying demonstration of what appears to be a growing anti-jazz trend.” European critics and audiences also had difficulty with appearances earlier in the year, finding the group’s music, especially that of Coltrane and Dolphy, puzzling and difficult to follow. Down Beat magazine editor Don DeMichael took the step of inviting the pair to defend themselves, a piece appearing in the April 12, 1962 issue entitled “John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy Answer the Critics”.
It was the idea of new producer Bob Thiele to record Coltrane live over four nights in early November, Thiele meeting the saxophonist for the first time face-to-face at the club. This commenced a close working relationship between Thiele and Coltrane that would last for the rest of his time at Impulse, Thiele producing virtually every subsequent album. Thiele secured Coltrane’s trust right away by not insisting he record his most popular song, “My Favorite Things”, during these shows. Sound engineer Rudy Van Gelder set up his equipment at a table by the stage, and for these concerts Coltrane often enhanced the Quintet by adding tampura, contrabassoon, oboe, or a second bass.
Three performances were chosen for the album, one a pop standard and a second entitled “Spiritual”, possibly an adaptation of “Nobody Knows de Trouble I See” published in The Book of American Negro Spirituals by James Weldon Johnson. The third selection, the blues “Chasin’ the Trane”, has been described as one of the most important recordings in jazz for its seeming ability to unify the approaches of free jazz, jamming, and neoclassicism. As to its genesis, in a 1966 interview Coltrane recalled that he had “listened to John Gilmore kind of closely before I made ‘Chasin the Trane’.”
The performances are quintet for “Spiritual”, quartet for “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise”, and trio for “Chasin’ the Trane”. These were Reggie Workman’s final recordings with the group, as by December 1961 Garrison was announced as his replacement, stabilizing a line-up that would remain constant for the next four years.
Pursuant to the article by Coltrane and Dolphy, for the following April 26 issue Down Beat presented two reviews of Live! at the Village Vanguard, both focusing on “Chasin’ the Trane”. Pete Welding described it as “a torrential and anguished outpouring, delivered with unmistakable power, conviction, and near-demonic ferocity.” On the other hand, Ira Gitler, who had coined the phrase “sheets of sound”, stated that “Coltrane may be searching for new avenues of expression, but if it is going to take this form of yawps, squawks, and countless repetitive runs, then it should be confined to the woodshed.”
Two additional recordings taken from these shows appeared on the album Impressions, “Impressions” and “India”. On September 23, 1997, Impulse! issued a box set The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings, with the sets from all four nights chronologically on four compact Discs (later this year in this blog !). (by wikipedia)
This set documents the four-night stand by John Coltrane (sax) and his quintet at the Village Vanguard in New York City, November 1 — 5, 1961. Although these are not newly discovered tapes — as the majority of the selections have turned up on no less than five separate releases — their restoration is significant in assessing motifs in Coltrane’s [read: multi-show] live appearances. Coltrane is accompanied by an all-star ensemble of Eric Dolphy (alto sax/bass clarinet), Garvin Bushell (oboe/contrabassoon), Ahmed Abdul-Malik (oud), McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass), Reggie Workman (bass), Elvin Jones (drums), and Roy Haynes (drums). Their presence is as equally vital as Coltrane’s — inspiring as well as informing the dimensions of improvisation. With the knowledge that the entire run was being documented to create some sort of retail document, Coltrane chose nine specific compositions to concentrate on. The choice of material likewise had a tremendous impact on the personnel of the band — evidenced by Bushnell’s contributions during “Spiritual” and Abdul-Malik’s within the context of the extended “India.” (by Lindsay Planer)
John Coltrane (saxophone)
Eric Dolphy (clarinet on 01. + 04,)
Jimmy Garrison (bass on 03. + 05.)
Elvin Jones (drums)
McCoy Tyner (piano)
Reggie Workman (bass on 01., 02. + 04.)
01. Spiritual (Coltrane) 13.48
02. Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise (Romberg/Hammerstein) 6.40
03. Chasin’ The Trane (Coltrane) 16.10
04. India (Coltrane) 14.03
05. Impressions (Coltrane) 14.53
John Coltrane (September 23, 1926 – July 17, 1967)