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John Coltrane: Evenings At The Village Gate

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John Coltrane: Evenings At The Village Gate
All music is, as are all our greater gestures and pursuits—poetry, painting, literature, sculpture, dance—spiritual by nature. An outreach by the artist and thus, by extension, us, beyond the daily argot of the ordinary. But sometimes those instances are so far and in-between, so masked by the lawlessness of the present moment, that our higher selves are forgotten, or worse, denied.

And sometimes the music is downright holy. Welcome to the church known as the Village Gate. Welcome to Evenings At The Village Gate: John Coltrane With Eric Dolphy.

For thirty eight years (1958-1994), on the corner of Thompson and Bleecker Streets in NYC, (as if any other city could possibly boast the same) the Village Gate presented many of our holy seekers—Jimi Hendrix, Charles Mingus, Allen Ginsberg, Nina Simone, Dexter Gordon, Woody Allen, Art Blakey, Patti Smith, Aretha Franklin—but it was in August of 1961, as part of a triple marquee bill with Blakey's quintet (which included Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter at the time) and Horace Silver's equally high-flying quintet (featuring Blue Mitchell) that the focus here is on. An August 1961 residency by Coltrane and the nascent classic quartet of Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner with bassist Reggie Workman, who would be replaced by the quartet defining Jimmy Garrison by the end of the year.

August 1961. Just three months (and an eight-minute walk) before the start of Coltrane's mind-bending, soul-searching run at the Village Vanguard that culminated in the release Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard (Impulse!, 1962) and expanded in 1997 with the 4CD box set The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings (Impulse!).

Recently unearthed at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts by an archivist tracking down the work of another of our few geniuses, Bob Dylan, Evenings At The Village Gate: John Coltrane With Eric Dolphy, recorded by Village Gate recording engineer Rich Alderson as part of a test of the club's new sound system, is a scorched earth, no-holds-barred excursion into the possible. First cited by Downbeat as "a horrifying demonstration of what appears to be a growing anti-jazz trend" Coltrane and Dolphy continued on their journey fearlessly, choosing sagely to listen to their souls and not the drumbeat of naysayers.

And so we have "My Favorite Things," (which due to mainstream radio play was Coltrane's best-known release to that point) seemingly stirring into consciousness from the basement vapors of the Gate. Dolphy's bright, balletic flute spinning its way through the rhythmic propulsion, gearing up for the acrobatics to follow as Coltrane's melodically biting soprano comes screaming in full force. Jones, as ever, never lets up, giving the frontline ample tectonics to pursue what some small-mindedly labeled anti-jazz at the time.

Imagine where any of this, or any of us, would be had Coltrane, Dolphy, and company bought into the hasty criticism and let it stunt their art, their search, their liberation? Where would Dolphy's inspired bass clarinet reverie on Benny Carter's swinging rarity "When Lights Are Low" be now? Would Coltrane have evolved beyond his sheets of sound to present us with the roiling fervor found at the fore on "Impressions"? Most likely yes, for intrigue into one's own understanding, vulnerability, and volubility, is the guiding tenet of all human connection.

Tyner rollicks throughout "Impressions" like a kid on a downhill sled, as Workman pulls and holds, pulls and holds. As if to celebrate and introduce the then soon-to-be-released Africa/Brass (Impulse!, 1961), "Greensleeves" and the only known live recording of the exotically polyrhythmic "Africa" (with Art Davis joining in on second bass) both based on Tyner's harmonic voicing and orchestrated by Dolphy. These are whirlwinds of overture and adventure. The set includes essays by Ashley Kahn, Wynton Marsalis, Lakecia Benjaminas well as interviews and memories by Reggie Workman and Village Gate recording engineer Rich Alderson. Another eighty minutes of music like this may never be found (or performed) ever again.

Track Listing

My Favorite Things; When Lights Are Low; Impressions; Greensleeves; Africa.

Personnel

John Coltrane
saxophone
Eric Dolphy
woodwinds
Art Davis
bass, acoustic
Additional Instrumentation

John Coltrane: soprano saxophone (1-4), tenor saxophone (5); Eric Dolphy: flute (1), bass clarinet (2-4), alto saxophone (5);

Album information

Title: Evenings At The Village Gate | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Impulse! Records

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