Evenings At The Village Gate: John Coltrane (with Eric Dolphy) [Live]
At first, the sound of this archival treasure might seem unpolished, but give the ear a moment to adjust. The detail and balance are remarkable for a one-microphone test recording discovered by chance in the New York Public Library some half a century later. It features tenor sax giant John Coltrane in summer of 1961 at the Village Gate, several months before his historic live recording at the Village Vanguard some blocks away. By the time he played the Vanguard, Coltrane had solidified his great quartet with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones. In a move that puzzled some and delighted others, Coltrane expanded to a quintet at the Vanguard, adding Eric Dolphy, the searching multireedist and kindred spirit. On Evenings at the Village Gate, we get an unprecedented earlier glimpse of this short-lived quintet, with Reggie Workman on bass rather than Garrison. Bassist Art Davis, who played on the studio version of “Africa” from Coltrane’s Africa/Brass, joins Workman here on the only known live version of the song. “Africa” is the only track on which Coltrane plays tenor sax. Even on the iconic tenor feature “Impressions,” it’s soprano sax all the way. Dolphy’s only alto performance is “Africa”; he’s on flute for “My Favorite Things” and bass clarinet for “Impressions,” the churning waltz “Greensleeves” (which he did not play on at the Vanguard), and the midtempo swinger “When Lights Are Low” (a Benny Carter tune that Coltrane had recorded with Miles Davis in 1956). These shifts of instrumentation alone make the recording significant. The two horns play in and around the themes, crafting countermelodies and call-and-response, and Coltrane lets Dolphy have his say at length (we don’t hear from Coltrane at all until six minutes into the album). McCoy Tyner proves himself a supreme accompanist—and with Coltrane and Dolphy, this sometimes requires not accompanying at all. His piano solos are like a parachute, catching the terrifying wind, slowing the fall, gracefully ushering in harmonic stability and a sense of calm.