Sunday, November 20, 2011

John Coltrane Quintet - Falkonercentret, Copenhagen, Denmark, Nov. 20, 1961

Recorded in Copenhagen, this is the third date (but fifth performance) of John Coltrane's 1961 European tour with Eric Dolphy. This concert features several unique moments which make it a stand-out "must have" item from an era of essential recordings.

Of immediate import to collectors is the inclusion of what is supposedly the sole performance of Victor Young's "Delilah" by either Coltrane or Dolphy. With a rumbling back beat courtesy of drummer Elvin Jones and bass player Reggie Workman, both horn players as well as pianist McCoy Tyner get plenty of room to solo. As modal as anything else in the band's repertoire, this is more of a warm-up as opposed to rave-up.

A straightforward rendering of the Cole Porter ballad "Every Time We Say Goodbye" follows, noteworthy for some lovely piano work from Tyner.

The program starts to enter familiar Coltrane Qunitet territory with "Impressions", which uses a Coltrane solo as a starting point and includes exploratory efforts from the leader as well as Dolphy's alto and Tyner on piano. As one of the (if not the) most oft-performed songs from this era in Coltrane's career, Copenhagen 1961 added yet another crucial version to the canon.

Another special moment is occasioned by the band's take on "Naima", one of Coltrane's most enduring compositions. Lacking a solo from Coltrane (much like this version from the Village Vanguard earlier in the month), Dolphy leads the way on bass clarinet and is followed by a gorgeous display from Tyner. This is one for the ages.

The set concludes in the oddest and rarest of ways. The band misfires not once but twice during the introduction to "My Favorite Things", leading Coltrane to address the audience with something of an explanation and apology. His boldest statements are saved for when the music starts, though, as his intense soprano soloing leads the Quintet into a nearly 30-minute explosion of sound. A brief solo from the leader gives way to a majestic Tyner turn followed by a round of flute work from Dolphy and finally nearly 10 minutes of fireworks from Coltrane.

These recordings, like many other from Coltrane's various European performances, were never issued in his lifetime but thankfully someone involved with the proceedings had the presence of mind to roll tape. If there are any flaws worth noting in the recording, it might be the slightly low volume on the drums but overall there is a very distinct sound stage and instrument separation with the three solo instruments in nice balance.

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