Shopping For Records #7: 4 Discs from the Village Vanguard

Amazon purchase:

John Coltrane
The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings Box Set
Impulse!
Released: 9.23.97

I think I picked this up around April. Amazon.com had cut a decent amount of loot off of the asking price, so I figured I’d shell out the bucks. When the box set arrived, I cleared as much room from my iPod as I could and managed to get all four recordings on there. Then it was all I played for about a week or two straight.


While reading Ben Ratliff’s book, Coltrane: The Story of a Sound, I really felt the absence of the first Village Vanguard recordings from my album collection. These recordings were considered to be controversial for their time as Coltrane was in the process of breaking away from his Atlantic work and beginning his personal quest to find God through his saxophone. It would sound harsh, possibly irritating to some, and would cement Coltrane as a figurehead for the Avant movement, which was in its relative infancy with Ornette Coleman’s The Shape Of Jazz To Come and Free Jazz.


Live! at the Village Vanguard brought Jimmy Garrison into the fray, him being the bassist for what would later become known as the John Coltrane Quartet. Drummer, Elvin Jones and pianist, McCoy Tyner had already been a steady part of Coltrane’s personnel, though for this album, the notable accompaniment of Eric Dolphy was the album’s focal point.


Coltrane’s next album, Coltrane, which is easily one of the best records I’ve ever listened to in my lifetime, would solidify the quartet and bring about a very creatively prosperous era. A Love Supreme, Coltrane’s best known masterwork, emerged from this quartet. Coltrane’s eventual leaps into anti-structural power and chaos would alienate the quartet and his Vanguard follow-up, Live at the Village Vanguard Again!, (which I consider to be underrated), would showcase his newest partnerships with Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Rashied Ali and Emanuel Rahim. Garrison continued to play.

Anyway, the 60s hadn’t even really been officially inaugurated yet with the colossus of Beatlemania or Kennedy’s assassination but you can feel the entire decade all over the Vanguard concerts. Having been recorded over the course of four nights, Coltrane juggled line-ups, carried out tunes to the twenty-minute mark in a lot of instances and really screwed with his song structures. He repeated songs during his stint, but no two sound alike at all. “India,” for instance starts off pretty tame in relation to what it’s turned into by the fourth night, with the addition of oud player, Ahmed Abdul-Malik and contrabassoonist, Garvin Bushell, giving eerie hints as to the part Sanders will be playing in Coltrane’s work only four years into the future.


I’ll admit that The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings is a lot to sit through at once, but it really is the saxophonist’s Good Word being spread throughout a hall where a bunch of minds were either being repulsed or blown. You have to wonder if the audience knew they were watching history being made on that stage, and if they ever looked back with grateful hindsight. As you’ll hear, they at least respond with gentle applause.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead
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