John Coltrane – “Live” At The Village Vanguard

Jazz’s spiritual awakening begins in earnest

Saxophonist John Coltrane was clearly someone on a journey, a quest even, toward some sort of enlightenment. Yet it was an experience he wanted to share, one not based on orthodox values, religiously speaking, even though religious belief remained at the very core of his convictions, Coltrane wanted to unite humanity, like a Martin Luther King of Jazz.

Having already made a reputation for himself playing alongside Miles Davis, a collaboration which after five years had reached its apogee on the seminal Kind Of Blue, released in 1959, Coltrane knew the time was right to make his own mark on the musical landscape.

“Live” At The Village Vanguard, originally issued in 1962, captures Coltrane at a time when jazz was on the cusp of fracturing between the old school and the new. Culled from two performances made on 2nd and 3rd November 1961, the saxophonist is accompanied by a stellar cast of musicians, including McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (double bass), Eric Dolphy (bass clarinet), Reggie Workman (bass), Jimmy Garrison (bass), and Elvin Jones (drums).

Opening with the lengthy “Spiritual,” Coltrane’s cosmic tones permeate throughout. Jones, as always, is totally in the pocket, while Dolphy creates a universe all of his own, one full of rich and subtle textures. But this universe which they concoct cannot exist on complexity alone, it needs space as well, so that each artist can breathe.

“Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise” is like music for the mind and soul, designed to tenderly caress the neurons and help one forget about the day.

“Chasin’ The Trane,” on side two, reveals Coltrane’s more experimental approach, which means that it may not be quite as pleasing to the ear, though yet is no less than inquisitive to even an average listener, despite the fact it isn’t exactly the most melodic of experiences.

If Miles Davis was Jazz’s equivalent to Picasso, then Coltrane was its Jackson Pollock, creating beauty out of seeming chaos. Whether he would go on to take his musical chemistry too far is another argument entirely, but for now, the seeds of experimental jazz were well and truly sown.