Friday, January 27, 2012

John Coltrane Quintet Featuring Eric Dolphy - Konserthuset, Stockholm, Sweden, Nov. 23, 1961

The John Coltrane Quintet Featuring Eric Dolphy played two shows at the Konserthuset in Stockholm, Sweden, on November 23, 1961. There are many complete recordings of the early show in circulation and, seemingly, some confusion around recordings from the late show. Various bootlegs and unofficial releases are cited as containing part or all of the second performance but it is not clear how accurate this information is. For the purposes here, let's look at the positively-identified first performance.

A rollicking "My Favorite Things" kicks off the set. It is some combination of sloppy, disjointed, devilish, exuberant and downright comical. Coltrane comes out of the gate with some off-key saxophone squawks, but as if to prove that there are no mistakes in music, he incorporates the honking into a longer melody line to the point where all the listener can do is shake his head and laugh. It's so outrageously out front, unusual and playful...Coltrane's initial run gives way to a McCoy Tyner exploration which, in turn, is picked up by Eric Dolphy on flute. Dolphy has his way with the melody for several minutes before Coltrane rolls back for another intense round on his horn, dueting the melody with Dolphy before heading off on his own. Coltrane and drummer Elvin Jones are locked in for a series of peaks and valleys.

"Blue Train", with its uber-cool opening line sets the stage for a solo from Coltrane that starts with the blues but quickly goes somewhere else entirely. Propelled by a swinging drum line from Jones, it is not hard to imagine the audience bouncing in their seats. Dolphy takes over and does what he does best, wiggling in and around the melody, again rooted in blues, but as quirky and angular as can be. Tyner steps up at the six-minute mark and leads some terrific interplay between himself, Jones and bassist Reggie Workman.

"Naima" is a short but oh-so-sweet vehicle for some delicate bass clarinet work from Dolphy. His is the only solo, with Coltrane accompanying him on the main theme, to loud applause.

The barn-burner "Impressions" closes the set, with its unique combination of propulsion and swing. Given how large a role in Coltrane's live repertoire this song played, it is hard to believe he only tracked it once in the studio. No matter, it is live where the song really opens up. It's skeletal chord progressions (identical to So What) are ideally suited to the modal inquisitiveness of Doplhy and Coltrane's horns.

Many reviewers cite this show as the best of Coltrane's 1961 European tour. That might be a step too far but like the rest of that historic run - and despite the limited songbook performed on the tour - it is essential listening.

This show is available on iTunes under the album title Coltranology Volume One.