Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The John Coltrane Quartet Featuring Eric Dolphy - So Many Things: The European Tour 1961 (Acrobat Records, 2015)

This is a four CD set of the John Coltrane Quartet on tour in Europe in the late fall of 1961 with special guest Eric Dolphy on alto saxophone, bass clarinet and flute. Coltrane alternates between tenor and soprano saxophone, and the band is rounded out with McCoy Tyner on piano, Reggie Workman on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums. Let’s get the preamble out of the way first: these are relatively muddy sounding radio broadcasts that have been floating among bootleg collectors for years. Another caveat up front is that Acrobat Records’ quality control is not exactly stellar: the first disc of the collection that I received turned out to be America’s #1 Hits of the 1950’s. Instead of going through all the hassle of returning it I just downloaded disc one. Also the discs are so flimsy that you can see right through them, although the remaining ones did seem to play adequately. While the music may lack the wallop of the Village Vanguard recordings of the same year, they are still quite interesting and worthy of checking out. The concerts presented here took place on November 18 in Paris, November 20 in Copenhagen, November 22 in Helsinki and November 23 in Stockholm. The setlists were fairly similar from night to night, with wonderfully exploratory versions of “My Favorite Things” each night, with the band, especially the leader, approaching the familiar tune as a blank slate each evening, and building upon it in their own unique way each time. It’s interesting to hear “Blue Train” each night as well, without the trumpet and trombone that added to the somber feeling of the studio version. Here the song is much more open, with room to breathe and the musicians take full advantage of it. “Impressions” as always is a great platform for the band to stretch out and Coltrane is a wonder on these versions with his remarkably fast playing that is just extraordinary to behold. There is an excellent and lengthy booklet that comes with the set with outstanding pictures and essays. This set is recommended with reservations, the playing by the band is first rate as can be imagined and the notes are great, but the uneven sound and potential quality control issues make this set essential for deep John Coltrane fans only. So Many Things: European Tour 1961 -

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