Wednesday, November 02, 2011

John Coltrane Quintet - Village Vanguard - November 2, 1961

Night two of John Coltrane's four-night run at the Village Vanguard in November 1961 seemed to be starting off in a more tame manner than the previous evening's performance.

"Chasin' Another Trane" starts off in a fairly typical hard bop style, and returns to that at points, but by only a couple of minutes in the solos have slipped out of the blues into some serious modality. Credit is due the drum work of guest Roy Haynes here. His playing is so assured, that even when the music strays out of the pocket, Jones is somehow keeping a deeper, more cosmic time going, hand-in-hand with Reggie Workman on bass. Something about this take is so radical, in how it hews to yet completely subverts the bop form.

The line-up for this night's take of "India" expands to an octet, with Jones back in the drum chair, Jimmy Garrison providing a second bass, Ahmed Abdul-Malik back for a second night with his droning tampura and some really out oboe work from then-60-year-old Garvin Bushell. McCoy Tyner is barely present, though he adds a few ringing notes here and there.

The band is down to a sextet for "Spiritual", with Malik and Garrison leaving the stage and Bushell switching to contrabassoon. The subdued shuffle of this song provides the perfect launching point for soulful soloing. All of the horn players oblige.

It's a quartet (Coltrane/Tyner/Workman/Jones) that tackles the Romberg/Hammerstein composition, "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise". The first few minutes belong to Tyner, who solos delicately but the band kicks into a higher gear for Coltrane's turn. Of the small number of songs performed over this four-night run, "Softly..." makes its only appearance here. The song may have actually been a little too typically hard bop for these dates. Tellingly, some of the most enthusiastic audience response caught by the mics is at the end of this run-through.

Things are stripped down even further for "Chasin' the Trane"; it is just Coltrane, Garrison and Jones in a trio format. This version is an almost-perfect foreshadowing of where Coltrane's sound would go over his remaining years. Perhaps not as dissonant as his final work, but hard-edged and out for sure.

Things cool down with a pretty straight (and relatively short) quartet reading of "Greensleeves". After not getting a ton of lead action the night before, but in a similar manner as "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise", McCoy Tyner gets to shine here. His soloing is melodic and carries the majority of the load. Also like "Softly...", the crowd seems most appreciative of the more typical sounds coming from the bandstand.

The band is back to a quartet for the closing number, "Impressions" (Coltrane on tenor, Dolphy on alto, Tyner, Jones and Garrison on bass). If the intensity level was not quite as epic as the version from the night before, it still certainly stands in stark relief to the previous number, with the horn players trading measures and Jones flailing away. It is particularly interesting to follow the work Tyner and Garrison lay down beneath the solos. They are probably the only thing keeping the song rooted to the Coltrane of 1961 and not 66...

If this second night was less incendiary than the first it may be only by comparison. This was not the typical hard bop jazz fans of the day were probably accustomed to seeing. Two down, two to go...

Listen to the John Coltrane Quintet live from the Village Vanguard, November 2, 1961. Click to stream the tracks as they appear on The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings.