A newly discovered album featuring John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy has recently been unearthed, titled Evenings at the Village Gate. This historical recording, initially stored at the New York Public Library, provides an intimate glimpse into the jazz legends’ live performances back in 1961.
The Story Behind the Recording
The album consists of recordings made over two nights during the summer of 1961 by Rich Alderson, the club’s sound engineer. Captured with a single microphone suspended above the stage, Alderson initially recorded the music to understand the sound quality, not necessarily for posterity.
The Mono Sound and Instrumental Clarity
Due to the single microphone setup, the album’s audio is in mono, resulting in some instruments being more prominent than others. While the contributions of Coltrane and Dolphy, along with Elvin Jones’ drumming, are clear, McCoy Tyner’s piano and the basses of Reggie Workman and Art Davis can be indistinct, especially during solo performances by other artists.
Coltrane’s Period of Transition
This recording captures Coltrane during a period of transformation, having achieved significant success with his My Favorite Things album earlier in the year. He had also experimented with larger ensembles on the yet-to-be-released Africa/Brass. At this time, his “classic quartet” had not yet fully formed.
Live Performances and Exciting Moments
The album showcases the energy and excitement of the band’s live performances, particularly on popular in-concert pieces such as “My Favorite Things,” “Impressions,” and “Greensleeves.” The lesser-known “When the Lights Are Low” contains some beautiful playing, including an exceptional solo by Tyner.
Throughout the recording, Dolphy can be heard pushing boundaries and often sounding more adventurous than Coltrane—particularly on the especially fast-paced “Impressions,” where Coltrane’s soprano reaches new heights with its hypnotic repetitiveness.
The longest piece on the album, “Africa,” spans over twenty minutes and features an extended bass section, with Davis soloing as Workman maintains the groove. This track also includes the album’s only drum solo, showcasing Jones’ powerful drumming that propels the music forward, culminating in the band’s exhilarating re-entry after the solo.
Comparisons to Other Live Coltrane Recordings
Among the many live recordings of John Coltrane, Afro Blue Impressions is often considered a standout. However, Evenings at the Village Gate holds its own against such benchmarks, as well as the Complete Village Vanguard Sessions from the same year. While this may not be the first Coltrane live recording one might turn to, it is undoubtedly essential for anyone seeking another interpretation of “Impressions,” “My Favorite Things,” and “Greensleeves.”