John Coltrane Quintet with Eric Dolphy: Complete 1961 Copenhagen Concert
Complete 1961 Copenhagen Concert
Without a doubt, saxophonist John Coltrane's band after he left trumpeter Miles Davis in 1960 is one of the defining groups of jazz, and for the year or so during which multi- instrumentalist Eric Dolphy joined Coltrane on reeds, the band became a phrenic and frenetic powerhouse that shook jazz to its core. Between Dolphy's piercingly distinct sound and Coltrane's newly developed interest in Eastern modalities, as well as the driving force of one of the all-time great rhythm sectionspianist McCoy Tyner, drummer Elvin Jones, and bassists Jimmy Garrison or Reggie Workmanthis was a band to reckon with.
Recorded on November 20, 1961, mere weeks after the legendary Village Vanguard sessions that got critics' dander up, this album finds the quintet at the Falkonercenter in Copenhagen, playing the first part of a sold-out two act bill (the second act was trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie's band: what a concert!). Here, Workman is still holding down the bass chair, though Jimmy Garrison had likely won himself the spot for future iterations of the Coltrane band with his performance on "Chasin' The Trane" back in New York. Previously made available on vinyl, but only just released in a complete CD form with announcements by presenter Norman Granz, this is a must-have for Coltrane or Dolphy completists.
For the more casual jazz fan, however, the question is a little cloudier. The sound really doesn't approach the quality of The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings (GRP Records, 1997) or the 1963 quartet performance on Birdland (GRP, 1995) releases, or measure up to the highly regarded European tours released on Pablo in 2001. Workman and Jones are often difficult to make out, and listeners may find themselves doing some volume adjusting from solo to solo. That being said, there are far worse live recordings out there, and the music itself is transcendently good.
The album boasts two curiosities that distinguish it from all the other Coltrane recordings available in the marketplace. The first, a pair of rare false starts on "My Favorite Things," prompting an apology from the ever mild-mannered Coltrane to the audience, will likely only interest the true die-hard fan. But a version of Victor Young's beautiful "Delilah," purported to be the only version of the song that Coltrane or Dolphy ever recorded, is a deluxe addition to any fan's collection.
Played in a Latin groove, the bittersweet melody leads off the set, and features Coltrane warming himself to life on his burning soprano. Yet it also brings to mind something Coltrane cited to saxophonist Wayne Shorter as a reason why he had to leave the Davis bandthat his developing approach didn't always fit with the structures of a lot of jazz standards. It's interesting to hear the tune adapted to the modal world that the band was exploring at the time, but it also seems to lose some of the nuance as the horn players tear it up. Dolphy seems a little uncomfortable with it at first, though Tyner falls into it easily from the first notes. While enjoyable, it's easy to see why the tune did not join the other tunes recorded here as one of the band's mainstays.
"Impressions," by contrast, was a favorite subject for the band's explorations, and appears three times on The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings alone. The version here starts off a little lethargic, but Coltrane finds his way about midway through his solo, taking off into the spiritual flights of passion that sound like he's pushing his horn to the breaking point, and which would characterize his playing from this point on. Dolphy follows on alto sax, and his playing really shows the influence that the two men had on each other, even though their styles were very distinct. There is again the sense of pushing the instrument to the limits of possibility, as Dolphy plays a string of vocal squawking and squealing notes along intricate bebop rhythms. Tyner's solo too shows the monumental influence that his playing has had on the history and development of jazz piano, with its hypnotic and developing grooves.
The beautiful "Naima" follows. Ironically, for a track that is so classically associated with Coltrane, the standout soloist is Dolphy, whose far-reaching bass clarinet solo is among the best on the album. Indeed, as on one of the Vanguard takes, Coltrane doesn't solo, but lets Tyner follow with a dynamic and virtuoso display of playing that pushes the beautiful ballad to new heights.
Coltrane makes up for it, of course, on a 29-minute take of "My Favorite Things." He really develops the tune from the very beginning, playing sparsely at first on soprano, then passing it to Tyner for a brilliant turn developing the melodic ideas in a vein that blends both the then hard-bop tradition of jazz with an Eastern meditative groove like the ringing of temple bells. Dolphy's superb and faintly eerie flute follows, before Coltrane retakes the reins. The drone of Workman's bass is both audible and particularly effective throughout, giving the whole track the necessary Eastern oomph to push Coltrane to the heights he sought. And soar he does, with his soprano exploding through ideas at every moment for nearly half of the track's considerable running time. What he creates, and the sheer energy that pours out from the recording, is incredible.
Without a doubt, this would have been an astonishing performance to witness. While Coltrane, Dolphy and McCoy are fantastic as always, part of the pleasure of hearing this band is in the seemingly telepathic give and take between all players. Hearing Coltrane's fire with only hints of the sparks that Elvin Jones is lighting behind him isn't the complete experience. That being said, it's still a lot better than most of what's out there.
Tracks: Announcement by Norman Granz; Delilah; Every Time We Say Goodbye; Impressions; Naima; My Favorite Things (false starts); Announcement by John Coltrane; My Favorite Things.
Personnel: John Coltrane: tenor and soprano saxophones; Eric Dolphy: alto saxophone, flute, bass clarinet; McCoy Tyner: piano; Reggie Workman: bass; Elvin Jones: drums.