John Coltrane with Eric Dolphy - Evenings at the Village Gate (2023), 6/10

Recorded in August of 1961, a time when the Village Gate hosted an array of different artists even outside of the jazz scene, Coltrane and Eric Dolphy’s Evenings at the Village Gate represents a very interesting time in Coltrane’s career before the November recording of Coltrane "Live" at the Village Vanguard, yet the band sounds supremely whole and capable. Though this concert was intended as a sound test, not meant for release to the public, it sounds fantastic and comes across as a tight set. There is also a surprising amount of Dolphy’s fingerprints heard in the mix considering this stage in their respective careers, especially on “When Lights Are Low”. This is a clearly important record for improvisational performance and especially for fans of Dolphy’s unique career progression. I particularly enjoy this rendition of “Impressions”, one of my favorites from Coltrane, and the band soars alongside Trane, Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner providing exceptional accenting interplay to the arrangement. The whole piece is fiery, charged with passion, and brimming with spiritual vitality. It is the standout from a performance perspective, or in my view, altogether the most moving track on the record. This may simply be due to my affection for dense, feverish jazz, especially Coltrane’s variant of spiritual and free performance, but it remains a benefit as a glue for the center of the album regardless. It is hard to beat the impact of the Village Vanguard rendition on Impressions but this is a formidable interpretation. The band then brings a much-needed grace to “Greensleeves”, a piece that in my view is consistently mismatched and underwhelmed by an either under or overdone soulful energy. In this instance they match perfectly, which is a refreshing change. “Africa” serves as a great closer, and while it for some reason seems to suffer from a poor mix in comparison to the other tracks regarding balance, not worth mentioning for other tracks but this song suffers from a lack of evenness that is stark and detracts from the impact of the piece, it still rounds things out well. Evenings at the Village Gate is a prominent, outstanding recording even among Coltrane and Dolphy’s other masterworks, and one for which I am grateful of its discovery and availability.