Coltrane "Live" At The Village Vanguard  Lives Again!

Listening today to this record originally released February, 1962—60 years ago—it’s difficult to understand why it created controversy so intense that Downbeat’s editor at the time invited Coltrane and Eric Dolphy to “defend” it in print. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a jazz album entry point, this live album probably wouldn’t be it—especially side two. Sixty years on, “Chasin’ The Trane” might still send some running for cover (or covers, of which there’s but one on here, Hammerstein and Romberg’s beautiful “Softly As In a Morning Sunrise”).

John Coltrane’s first “live” album release resulted from recordings made over four nights at The Village Vanguard during the group’s two- week engagement, with Rudy Van Gelder setting up his gear on a stage-adjacent table and using a dozen microphones to capture the proceedings.

The tracks here were from performances on November 2nd and 3rd 1961. Tracks recorded November 5th were included on Impressions (Impulse A-42) released in the summer of 1963. The back of that jacket says “Recorded in 1963” but only one track actually was.

Coltrane had in September of 1961 added the then “chancy” Eric Dolphy to the newly minted lineup featuring McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison along with Reggie Workman who left the group shortly after these performances. These were Workman’s final recordings with Coltrane and Garrison’s first, though the latter does not get credited on the album. The group had played in L.A. and Chicago before opening October 24th at The Village Vanguard.

“Spiritual”, the album opener, features Coltrane on both tenor and soprano sax. Following a somber entrance featuring Dolphy’s fluttering bass clarinet on the right channel and Coltrane on the left, the tune lopes along pleasantly anchored by Elvin Jones’s shimmering cymbals and powerful snare hits and Workman’s bass lines. Dolphy on the right channel takes a long, snake-like solo punctuated by a deep pants flapping surprise followed by a Tyner left channel solo. Coltrane enters again on soprano and it will sound familiar to “My Favorite Things” fans. If you’ve sat in the Village Vanguard the layout RVG achieves will sound spatially familiar.

The side concludes with the Workman-anchored quartet “Softly As in a Morning Sunrise” cover, with Jones on brushes and everyone swinging tunefully on their best lyrically lithe behavior, Coltrane on soprano.

Flip over the record and despite the credits, Garrison is on bass and Tyner is MIA. It’s a trio recording that literally shook the foundations of modern jazz. Nat Hentoff’s annotation calls it “A blues”. And as the saying goes “The Taj Mahal is a building.”

Coltrane tells Hentoff for the liner notes that “…the melody not only wasn’t written, but it wasn’t even conceived before we played it.” The opening sounds as if Van Gelder hit “record” mid-tune. Minus a piano Coltrane is free to fly and off he goes! No “sheets of sound” here. Pillow cases, mattresses and box springs too. While at the time many listeners found Coltrane’s playing, with its honks and bleats ugly, in retrospect it’s downright liberating and no doubt he was reflecting in his music civil rights frustration that makes this music resonate all too perfectly today. Yet it’s still recognizable as what Hentoff called it: “a blues.” Sixty years on it’s music made for these times.

As for the sound, it’s interesting to note that for Coltrane The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings (Impulse IMPD4-232) a 4 CD box set produced by Michael Cuscuna and issued in 1997, “the five masters originally issued on AS-10 (this record) and AS-42 (Impressions)…are derived from second generation LP masters”, the source for the rest of the box set were the original master tapes. In other words, whatever happened to the original masters of this record and Impressions had nothing whatsoever to do with “the fire”.

I compared my original orange/black pressing, which I’ve owned since the early ‘60s (I’m thinking “Chasin’ The Trane” may have been the track that provoked my mother to call a jazz record I was listening to “sick cow music” and exclaim “Why don’t you go to the A.S.P.C.A.? You’ll hear the same sound and it’s free!”) with this new Ryan K. Smith re-master with the 2009 ORG Music double 45rpm issue cut by Bernie Grundman on 2 45rpm records pressed at Pallas and with the CD box set version.

First off, whatever BG used for the ORG double 45 was not the 2nd generation tape used for the CD box set version. The sound is soft, distant and muted. This was around the same time that Analogue Productions released equally soft sounding Impulse reissues including Out of the Cool and John Lee Hooker’s Serves You Right to Suffer (AS-9103) that also sounded (and still sound) just wrong but were at the time “the best available” sources.

Somehow UMG must have tracked down that second-generation tape because this reissue cut by Ryan Smith at 33 1/3 sounds much better than the ORG double 45. It also sounds better than the CD, which though it has more (but not better) bass, just sounds annoying after a few minutes and never "you are there" real. The cymbals sound brittle and “fake-metallic”, Dolphy's bass clarinet sounds like a kazoo, there’s no air or context around the instruments and, well enough. (Still happy to have the complete recordings “tho”).

This new Verve/Acoustic Sounds reissue is one of those “this sounds fantastic until you hear an original pressing”, which means it really sounds great.

I also compared an original Impressions that I have with the Speakers Corner version cut at Emil Berliner Studios (“EBS”) from a tape copy probably sourced from Universal’s Hannover, Germany vault (now moved to the U.K. I believe).

Universal Tape Vault. Hanover, Germany, 1996. (Photo: Michael Fremer)
and the differences were consistent with the sonic differences between the original …Village Vanguard… and this reissue. In other words, the Speaker’s Corner reissue sounds really good and if Impressions is ever released in this series it too will probably sound really great cut by Ryan Smith.

If you get a chance to compare an original A-10 with this reissue you’ll appreciate how fine this reissue sounds but you’ll also hear greater texture to Coltrane’s horn(s), far more “room sound”, and especially cymbal “ring”. The original is “you are there” great, in part thanks to RVG’s dozen microphone mixing, but you know what? If you never get to hear the original this reissue is “you are there” great too.

I feel so lucky and privileged to be able to just reach back and pick an original from the shelf to compare for you but if you buy this reissue, which you really should, you’ll have a great sounding version for not stupid money and the privilege will be all yours too.

Music Direct Buy It Now

RudyVanGelder's picture

Wait, John Lee Hooker’s Serves You Right to Suffer, from AP sounds wrong? I just bought a few months ago and it sounds great to me. Also, I have only heard really good things about it.

Michael Fremer's picture
To hear an original, Mr. RVG
brednjam1's picture

Are there any other titles from the Acoustic Sounds Series besides this one and the Gil Evans Out of the Cool record that are better than their Analogue Productions and ORG AAA 45 RPM counterparts?
I'd be particularly interested in hearing if the Acoustic Sounds reissues sound better than these ones:
Coltrane -- Ballads ORG 45 RPM, Crescent ORG 45 RPM, A Love Supreme AP 45 RPM,
Getz/Gilberto AP 45 RPM
Mingus -- Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus AP 45 RPM, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady AP 45 RPM
Oliver Nelson Blues and the Abstract Truth AP 45 RPM
Sonny Rollins -- On Impulse AP 45 RPM

jazz's picture

in 1-2 weeks. Did them shortly a while ago for Gil Evans, Ballads, Love Supreme, Getz/Gilberto, Mingus x 3 and Oliver Nelson. Except for the Gil Evans where I can confirm Michaels findings, I don’t remember nameable worse sound between AP45, AP33 and ORG, except I think the Mingus x 3 was clearly better from the AP45, but I have to recheck.

brednjam1's picture

I'd love to hear your findings. I have all of the Analogue Productions 45 and ORG 45 RPM series, which I believe are all AAA. I'd hate to spend more money on this if the new versions are not better.

jazz's picture

I shortly rechecked the albums I have double of those. I just refer to the mastering differences I immediately heard, not the typical 45 RPM advantages and didn’t went into further details if it otherwise didn’t sound too different.

Gil Evans Out of the cool:
AP 33 RPM sounds clearly better than the 45 RPM (different source).

Mingus x3:
AP 45 RPM has a more vibrant, airy ambiance which is better than of the AP 33 RPM. The 45 has a little different treble EQ (more rise on top) which some might prefer, others less. I’d slightly prefer the 33”s treble and the rest of the 45.

Blues & abstract truth:
AP 45 RPM has a little more vibrant, airy ambiance than the AP 33. I prefer the 45.

Love Supreme:
AP 33 RPM has a more defined bass which is why I prefer it to the AP 45 RPM.

The 33 RPM has a little stronger bass, but the 45 RPM much more clearly renders the cymbal brush work, the 33 seems a bit muted in comparison, which is why I prefer the ORG 45 RPM.

My impression is, Grundman and Gray have the better mastering chains (even the old ones), RK Smith however makes good EQ choices.

I can’t see that the AP 45 Impulse reissues or the ORG are generally “off”, it seems to depend on the album, mastering choice and on the source used in comparison to the new 33 RPM.

brednjam1's picture

This is very helpful! If you had to pick between the Mingus x 3 33 and 45, which would you keep?
Do you also have an ORG Crescent and AP Black Saint and the Sinner Lady to compare?

jazz's picture

Only if your top end is on the edge of bright you might prefer the 33’s EQ.

I don’t have the Black Saint (don’t like it) and also not the ORG Crescent unfortunately. We have to wait for Michael’s info.

jazz's picture

I listened again through all of them recently and through a few more of them.

Everything except the Love Supreme stays as stated. But on Love supreme I couldn’t hear that missing bass definition on the 45 RPM anymore.The 33 RPM as always has a more pronounced, rich, but musically less integrated bass. This is sometimes nice, sometimes less good.I’d now liked the 45 RPM’s slightly more transparent a bit better. This and the fact that, additionally to the ones mentioned n the post above, I also preferred the ORG Hartman/Coltrane to the AP33, made all of those I have, except the Out of the cool, better from the AP or ORG 45 RPM versions than from the AP33. Not generally for the typical 33/45 RPM differences but also because of the general mastering differences. Sometimes both have their strengths depending on the mood or preference for the day.
When listening to the ORG in those comparisons, I often think if they were mastered with tube equipment, as their bass integrates and flows more and they generally sound more airy. I don’t own the Coltrane Village Vanguard n ORG, so I couldn’t compare it.

MalachiLui's picture

i don't have the AP 45rpm, but i have the AP SACD with the same mastering and i compared it to the acoustic sounds/UMG AAA vinyl the other night. the new vinyl is mastered so much better - more transparency, and coltrane's hard-panned sax really comes to life. the AP SACD might be the best digital version (though i haven't directly compared it with kevin reeves' 192/24 PCM master) but the new vinyl beats it in every way. and michael and i compared the AP 45rpm with the original, and despite the hum on the original, i preferred the original. new acoustic sounds pressing is probably the best you'll get for 'a love supreme.'

brednjam1's picture

So you prefer the new Love Supreme to the original?

brednjam1's picture

Have you compared the AP 45 RPM to this new AS version? I already have the AP 45 RPM and am curious if this is any better (and worth the purchase).

RudyVanGelder's picture

has been accepted. Very interesting, thank you.

jazz's picture

Those with the originals (I’m fortunately one of them) and those who don’t and have to decide now, know the facts. If you now would post some feedback on matters you told you’d find out about or solve some of your unsolved A-B listening quest which sanded up, it would be perfect ;-)

Not sure however why we just find out about second generation tape used when new releases are showing up and not when the previous ones were released.

jazz's picture

it’s great you told about the second generation tape for the current release, but I wonder that we didn’t read much about this for those previous ones.

Rashers's picture

A bit of a lost opportunity. Yes the original album is wonderful - but a 4 album box set would have been extraordinary - and given more space to the quintet (Dolphy features on only one track). Worth every penny and excellently mastered - but the late 90s CD box set is in dispensible. Were the other masters destroyed in the fire?

Toptip's picture

‘the five masters originally issued…are derived from second generation LP masters” — I wish I understood what these actually mean. It would seem to me that there is first the tape — possibly multitrack — the music was recorded on. What is that called? Then it is mixed down to two channels…is that the master?

Then there is the concept of “remastering.” I used to think that in that case someone takes the original — again, multitrack? — recording and mixes it in a slightly different way, possibly on better tape machines. But looking at images published on this website, “remastered” tapes appear to be two-track with some minor — +/- 0.5dB — equalization changes at some frequencies.

In the end, of course, what matters is the final sound the music lover can buy. But still confusing.

soulsfred's picture

Coltrane's Crescent was issued the same day in the Acoustic Sounds Series, how does it sounds? Would you recommend it too?

jazz's picture

if Michael wouldn’t hold back naming all the ORG and AP releases he knows of, using second generation tapes.

Glotz's picture

And I held off because I didn't read this first. lol

I will be going back tomorrow to scoop this up!

Thanks Michael!

volvic's picture

I had just finished listening to it when I saw that Michael had posted his review. I love the recording and sound, a must to have in the collection.

GreenMonster2420's picture

So the marketing materials stating this release is from the original master tapes is false? This is from a second gen tape?

jazz's picture

has a wide interpretation of the term „original master tape“ (which I didn’t expect).