Evenings at the Village Gate: John Coltrane with Eric Dolphy — 1961
The John Coltrane legacy is the magical gift that keeps on giving, and we can hope that there is much more to come. After Coltrane’s transition in 1967, there have been more than two dozen recordings released. The real floodgates opened in 1997 with the release of The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings with Eric Dolphy. Among other significant “new” albums:
(Impulse! unless otherwise noted)
2001 1967 The Olatunji Concert: The Last Live Recording 1967-04-23
2001 1961 Live Trane: The European Tours (Pablo)
2005 1965 Live at the Half Note: One Down, One Up
2007 1963/1965 My Favorite Things: Coltrane at Newport
2009 1961 The Complete Copenhagen Concert (Gambit)
2014 1966 Offering: Live at Temple University
2015 1961 So Many Things: The European Tour 1961 (Acrobat)
2021 1965 A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle
2018 1963 Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album
2019 1964 Blue World
The 1961 quartet, expanded to a quintet (and occasionally more) featured John Coltrane, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone; Eric Dolphy, flute, alto saxophone, bass clarinet; Elvin Jones, drums; McCoy Tyner, piano; and Reggie Workman. All of the previous recordings — from New York and from Europe — come from November of 1961. That makes this new recording from August at The Village Gate in Greenwich Village, New York, unique.
This new discovery follows a recent pattern: albums lost, misplaced, or forgotten. The master tapes for Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album were destroyed “for storage space”; fortunately, copies existed, and the album finally emerged — 55 years later. Blue World, music recorded for a Canadian movie soundtrack, were was similarly rescued after 55 years. The stunning A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle, one of only two live performances of the masterpiece, was recorded by the Seattle nightclub owner but not found until 2013 and not issued for another six years.
This story is similar. During this brief residency at The Village Gate, sound engineer Richard Alderson, who contributed an excellent essay for the liner notes, recorded this session. However it happened, the tapes eventually wound up in the New York Public Library collection, where they were discovered, and now we have this phenomenal music, 62 years later!
The wonderful accompanying booklet contains liner notes by bassist Reggie Workman, Alderson, celebrated archivist Ashley Khan, and saxophone players Branford Marsalis and Lakecia Benjamin, with classic photographs by the master, Herb Snitzer. Workman explained in his essay that Trane wanted to experiment with two bass players, hence the inclusion of Art Davis on the album. The recording runs 79:51, mere seconds under the maximum for a CD. It splits onto four sides for the vinyl edition.
The five selections include standards “My Favorite Things” and “When Lights Are Low,” traditional tune “Greensleeves,” Trane’s brilliant “Impressions,” and a true rarity: the only live version of “Africa,” a song from the June session that produced part of the Africa/Brass album.
Speaking of Africa/Brass, Coltrane had already begun recording it for Impulse! on May 23, 1961, but he owed Atlantic one more album. He went in the studio the quartet plus Dolphy and Freddie Hubbard two days later, and the result was Olé Coltrane, an amazing session.
This recording has blown me away. However, in fairness, I have not had the chance to listen to the Village Vanguard sessions or any of the European shows in some time, so further research is required!
Speaking of this recording by Rich Alderson, it is brilliant! He recorded this during the Coltrane/Dolphy residency at The Village gate “for posterity,” and we are grateful. Here is the remarkable part as you listen, from Alderson’s liner notes:
When I recorded Coltrane, it was the only time I ever used just one mic for a live performance. At the Gate, the ideal spot for the mic was in the ceiling above the stage, so I placed the RCA there and ran a line down through the length of the club into Chip’s digs and recorded the music on a Nagra III reel-to-reel. I remember checking the sound with a set of Beyer headphones.
Another aspect of this record was carefully noted in Reggie Workman’s essay:
It was an extraordinary time for John. He was always reaching for new sounds, and Eric being in the group was a part of that. John really respected Eric a lot. They were very close in concept. Listening to the recording from the Gate, you can hear how Eric would take long solos and John would come after him and take a much shorter solo than he normally would take and let Eric’s voice be prominent. I remember John sitting off to the side of the stage, listening to him doing a lot of different things. He loved Eric’s sound on the bass clarinet.
“My Favorite Things” (Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers) – [15:54]
As noted, this recording clocks in just under the maximum that a single CD can hold. I mention this because most recordings of this song begin with a McCoy Tyner introduction; this one jumps immediately into a Dolphy flute solo. Was Tyner’s piano part excised to make the recording fit? We may never know!
Coltrane on soprano enters after Dolphy, with Tyner playing that beautiful piano vamp underneath. Elvin Jones is brilliant throughout, and the recording really favors him. Workman is evident but not prominent during the whole set.
“When Lights Are Low” (Benny Carter) – [15:28]
This lovely standard launches with Dolphy’s bass clarinet, truly magnificent. His seven-minute solo is followed by Coltrane on soprano (four minutes). Tyner gets a short turn at the end as Coltrane and Dolphy accompany him.
“Impressions” (Coltrane) – [10:13]
This is one of the shorter versions of this classic Coltrane composition. He opens on soprano, with Dolphy (bass clarinet) following and Tyner again closing out the tune.
“Greensleeves” (traditional) – [16:03]
Jones shines once again on this familiar melody. Dolphy’s solo is sandwiched between a short one from Coltrane and a long one, both soprano. Workman gets to take the song home on bass.
“Africa” (Coltrane) – [22:27]
Finally, we get to the most sought-after portion of this album, the only live recording of “Africa,” the centerpiece of Africa/Brass. Coltrane opens on tenor, with Dolphy’s bass clarinet behind. Coltrane takes a short solo, followed by a longer, very out one by Dolphy.
Tyner takes over, with both bass players evident, and Jones simply incredible. Workman and Art Davis then have eight glorious minutes front and center, Jones prominent underneath them. Jones gets a frantic two-minute outing, multiple hands and feet.
Coltrane then unleashes torrents of tenor, with Dolphy punctuating the flow and Jones all over the place.