Album Review: John Coltrane with Eric Dolphy – Evenings at the Village Gate

Across three days in October 1960, John Coltrane and three associates recorded session that yielded My Favorite Things, one of his most celebrated releases. Hitting shelves in March ‘61, the four-track album had a reading of the Rogers and Hammerstein classic as its centerpiece; Trane had found new inspiration when gifted a soprano sax by Miles Davis. The resulting album was a breakout success on both critical and (far less predictably) commercial levels. A drastically edited version of “My Favorite Things” was actually a hit sing, if one can imagine such a thing.

Some five months after that album’s release, Coltrane appeared for a number of dates at the Village Gate in New York City. He appeared with the same three players who accompanied him on the album: pianist McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman on upright bass, and drummer Elvin Jones. For some dates, Art Davis took over on bass, and at least once the ensemble was joined by another jazz giant, Eric Dolphy. Dolphy variously played flute, bass clarinet ad alto sax.

Happily, some of those dates were recorded. And drawing from that historical cache yields a new release, Evenings at the Village Gate. Wild, hypnotic, meditative and transcendent – sometimes all at once – this monaural recording captures the group in full flight. They take “My Favorite Things” – a modal masterpiece – and run with it for even longer than the studio take from months before.

In May and June of ‘61, Coltrane has returned to the studio, cutting tracks that would see release in September, mere weeks after these Village Gate performances. Released as Africa/Brass, those sessions featured the same studio lineup as My Favorite Things, with other players added. A highlight of those studio sessions was the one-chord meditation “Africa.” The audience at the Village Gate was treated to a performance of “Africa” before it appeared on record. And this new collection features the first-ever officially-sanctioned live recording of “Africa,” presented here in a 22-plus minute rendition.

The audio quality is tidy and uncluttered, albeit somewhat faraway-sounding and thin. Evenings at the Village Gate is an essential piece of audio for Coltrane devotees, but – because of its less-than-studio fidelity – newcomers to Trane’s work should be cautioned against using it as a starting point for exploring his work. Absorb the studio material first, and then dive in; the experience will be a rewarding one.