John Coltrane: The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings

C. Michael Bailey By

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John Coltrane: The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings
The top two live Jazz recordings in this ongoing series were recorded at the Village Vanguard within six months of each another in 1961. They represent the polar opposites of jazz. One is melodically searching, the other harmonically searching. One is quiet and exact, the other is loud and torrential. They were equally influential and visionary and stand greatly for the potential of jazz.

John William Coltrane and Franz Schubert have much in common. Both created a huge catalog of music in a short amount of time and died at the height of their musical explorations. Both men's contributions changed forever how music was performed and sounded. According to the All Music Guide editor Scott Yanow, John Coltrane existed as one of the six most influential figures in Jazz (the remaining five being Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis). Coltrane's career was short, critically spanning from 1955 and his early days with the first great Miles Davis Quintet to 1967, when he was redefining freedom in the groove on recordings such as Expressions, Interstellar Regions, and Stellar Regions.

Right in the middle of this densely creative period, Coltrane brought his quartet and some friends into New York City's Village Vanguard to make a live recording over four nights between November 1st and 5th, 1961. The recording was ultimately to be the extension of his explorations he started on Giant Steps and My Favorite Things. The queries Coltrane was to execute here were to be the deepest of his career. Coltrane was experimenting with augmentations of his classic quartet. He did this by including Eric Dolphy, Roy Haynes, and Reggie Workman in the mix, as well as, Ahmed Abdul-Malik. Never shying away from controversy and the highwire (recall that Coltrane participated in the greatest highwire act in jazz, Kind of Blue), Coltrane choose the often hostile venue of live performance to begin his study of Eastern Indian motivic improvisation. Coltrane was uncompromising in his vision during these four nights. These performances can be considered the beginning of Coltrane's musical research that would consume him for the rest of his life.

The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings fall right between the last Miles Davis Recordings Coltrane made (Someday My Prince Will Come), Coltrane's Africa/Brass sessions and his Ballads on Impulse!. He was still three years away for A Love Supreme. Clearly, Coltrane was running in all directions.

The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings consist of 10 pieces given in 22 total performances. Prior to the age of the compact disc. all of this music was spread out over Live At the Village Vanguard, Impressions, The Other Village Vanguard Tapes, Trane's Modes, and From the Original Master Tapes. Introduction of the compact disc conveniently provided a format for the entire release of all of the music from this historic series of concerts. How fortunate for us the listeners for this musical novel that can be read and re-read.

But, today, there remains hard questions:

Is John Coltrane jazz's most boring genius? Possibly.

Does John Coltrane have a pretty saxophone tone? Absolutely not.

Does John Coltrane belong in the list of most influential jazz artists, along with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis? Without question.

So potent and important is John Coltrane's place in the history of jazz, no serious jazz fan can ignore him. Moreover, his recorded four-night stand exists as a monument to his sheer force of will in the face of harsh criticism, the definition of a true prophet or visionary.

Many listeners would be put off by the direction Cotrane took after 1961, but only a fool would deny that what did come was neutronic genius, decimating everything in it path.

Now that's what I call "sheets of sound."


John Coltrane: saxophone.

Album information

Title: The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Impulse!

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