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on April 3, 2006
Well, at the risk of sounding like a "babbling, nonsensical cultist writing reams of gibberish" (as reviewer John Grabowski put it), I do think that the music assembled for this box set is the greatest live recording ever. Or at least greatest to my ears based on my own limited experiences.

While I can't compete with the eloquence or humor of the review I quoted from, I completely disagree with some of the points made. Sketches not worked out? Solos going nowhere that should be "pruned to 5 minutes"? In need of "focused concentration"?

I can't think of any music that more easily defines "focused concentration" than what's recorded here. I've never seen nor heard a group of musicians putting themselves so fervently into their music as the Coltrane quartet does here. I hear relentless searching that makes most so-called experimental music sound like a joke. With Giant Steps and the rest of the sublime Atlantic recordings Coltrane had already created music that is, I think, about as technically complex as jazz music gets, and Coltrane could have easily continued on this path for a lifetime. But here he begins to move in a different more viseral direction that would consume him for the rest of his tragically brief life. And it's impossible for me to imagine musicians more in tune with what he wants than those here, who all take solo after solo at a level of intensity that sends shivers up my spine. When I listen to these recordings I hear the Coltrane quartet (and Dolphy, maybe especially Dolphy) working on a level that I cannot comprehend or describe. This music is - even to an agnostic like myself - absolutely spiritual. And yes, based upon my of course subjective viewpoint, to me these CDs do in fact qualify as the greatest live recording ever.
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on June 4, 2001
John Coltrane was no stranger to controversy when he and his quintet arrived at New York's Village Vanguard in 1961; but the controversy that this extremely radical music aroused among jazz audiences, may have been a shock. Critics, including those who a year or two earlier had championed Giant Steps and My Favorite Things, now derided the music as anti-jazz or worse. Granted, this is some of Coltrane's most challenging pre-1965 music; but it is also music filled with incredible invention and joy, music that every open-minded jazz fan should check out. There's "Chasing the Trane" from November 2, where Coltrane pretty much deconstructs the saxophone with honks, whoops, and screams but never quite forgets the joyful, singsong melody; the unforgettable duet between Coltrane and drummer Elvin Jones on the November 3 "Impressions"; and "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise", which features the classic Coltrane quartet and is an interesting comparison to the version that Sonny Rollins recorded four years earlier at the same venue. McCoy Tyner plays wonderful piano on "Greensleeves" and "Softly..."; Elvin Jones is, as usual, superhuman. Eric Dolphy plays some of his finest music, with his vocal style on bass clarinet and alto sax -- from his anguish on both takes of "Naima" to the modal musings of "India". And yeah, several of the tracks are repeated, but each one is a universe to itself. There's really no excuse for not owning this incredible box set, a milestone in jazz and 20th century music.
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on November 30, 1999
Those of you who already own the 1-disc version of Live at the Village Vanguard (or plan to buy only that version), may think that those three extra discs aren't essential. Well, you're wrong! Impulse should have released the complete recordings from the start! (Actually they did release almost all of those tracks on several albums, mainly in the 1970's) Maybe you think that four versions of India or Spiritual are too much. Well, in my view it's impossible to pick only one version; each version has a different line-up, a different musical colour, a different mood. And the fact that this recording is complete, gives it an extra documentary value. But contrary to many "documentary" editions this digital remaster has delivered a beautiful clear sonority, really magnificent! It's like Coltrane and his band are standing in front of you. Coltrane and Dolphy are at their best, improvising like you've never heard before. This is in my view one of the essential Coltrane albums, and certainly the best coltrane live recording.
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VINE VOICEon April 17, 2006
Over the past couple days I listened to this for the first time in years. I listened to the Crescent album a few months ago and that was the first and only Coltrane (in terms of one of his own albums) I'd listened to in years. No real reason why I hadn't listened to him hardly at all for so long, I just hadn't.

It turns out I had forgotten how great a set this is. I always loved it, and I remembered loving it, but it's really been knocking me out these past 2 days. A ton has been written about Coltrane himself, and much more will be written in the future. Too little is said about the rest of the band. I think you could not care for Coltrane himself all that much and still love this music. Recorded on 11/1/61, 11/2/61, 11/3/61 and 11/5/61, the bands here (mainly McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, Reggie Workman, Elvin Jones and Eric Dolphy) are fantastic. When a Coltrane solo ends, there is no letdown. This is some of McCoy's finest playing ever... much better than on other peoples' Blue Note albums. Garrison, Workman and Jones get it going on in a major way here. Really that is what this set is about for me more than anything... rhythm. It's impossible for me to sit still during this stuff. A churning, pumping cyclone of sound, that's what this band is.

The Indias and Miles' Modes alone would be enough to counterbalance this album even if the rest of the stuff were only worthy of one star, which is not the case. And of course this makes me miss Eric Dolphy, as usual. I'm not sure I'll ever stop wondering what could have been. =(
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on May 31, 2008
I was lucky enough to acquire a cheap 2nd hand copy of this set, on the first day of a vacation. (Talk about recharging one's batteries.)

Being a set of mostly posthumoulsy released live "takes," OF COURSE there are passages of raw, unformed-ness, and ideas which were ignored in favor of the development and pursuance of other ideas...That's mostly what live modern jazz, even GREAT live modern jazz, is. (Thomas Merton's COLD WAR LETTERS - the first of which dates from 7 days before the first of these VANGUARD sessions - are of the same kind of ground-breaking nature, have the same kind of mixture of developed and undeveloped ideas.) This is an important critical point, because if you require exquisitely chiselled statements of Mozartean perfection, spread across a whole series of performances, well, then, modern jazz just ain't your idiom. These 22 tracks have been judged as if they constituted some kind of artist-approved, "finished" work. But they do not, because Trane only approved 5 of these 22 tracks for release during his lifetime. Still, all of them are essential for understanding John Coltrane.

These VILLAGE VANGUARD tapes, recorded November 1-5, 1961, document one of Trane's more incendiary, more overtly experimental phases. I see this as part of a recurring dual pattern in Trane's work: an alternation between the digging of raw gems and the subsequent refining of those gems in the crucible of his art - each of these complimentary phases revealing different qualities of that particular "set" of gems. You have to go back to Trane's initial emergence on the scene to really see this.

First, there is Trane's 1955-56 work with Miles Davis: intriguing, probing, yet rather raw and unformed. (Check out the 1955 Miles/Trane "Little Melonae", or their 1956 "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Sweet Sue"). This is followed by his more assured 1957 work with Thelonius Monk, and his concurrent Prestige and Blue Note debut sessions as a leader ("Goodbait," "Blue Train," "Moment's Notice," et al). My theory is that being with a genius as idiosyncratic as Monk not only forced Trane to sharpen his intuition as to what he himself was "about," but even made him sound more "lucid" by comparison - and thus gave him a new confidence. (Not to mention that during this pivotal year, Trane quit his heroin habit, cold turkey.)

Then come the "paradoxical" years of 1958 through 1960. They include Trane's second stint with Miles (MILESTONES, "Green Dolphin Street," KIND OF BLUE), and the beginning of Trane as a "live" working leader of his own band (not merely the designated "leader" of studio-recorded albums, important though they have been up to this point). What makes this phase so "paradoxical" is Trane's alternation between two seeming (but related) "scalar" opposites...On the one hand, his arpeggiated "sheets of sound," imposed over lightning-fast harmonic "changes" which push the "coherence envelope" of Bop and Hard Bop to the breaking point (GIANT STEPS, et al)...On the other hand, the opening out into the less cluttered "spaces" of modal - as in "scalar" - harmony (KIND OF BLUE, MY FAVORITE THINGS). It is during these years, in the midst of this "crucible of alternation," that John Coltrane finds his true Voice. And I use the word "alternation" literally, because GIANT STEPS follows KIND OF BLUE by a matter of weeks. But overall - as long as you understand "modal" as including, but not restricted to, the designated Western "modes" (i.e., Dorian, Phrygian, Mixolydian, etc.) - it is the vast territory of modal harmony and "line" which will constitute John Coltrane's musical "Living Space," almost to the very end.

But by early November 1961, Trane is poised for a more overtly experimental "stretch" - and a deeper exploration of the implications of that modal harmony and "line" which he had made so sweetly palatable in KIND OF BLUE and MY FAVORITE THINGS. Among other things, this means substantial passages in which pianist McCoy Tyner's crystalline accompaniment is dispensed with for more exploratory (some would say "abstract-sounding") harmonic "digs." That is to say, you wouldn't play this stuff at a dinner party.

Within a few weeks of Trane's VANGUARD stint (as you can hear in the LIVE TRANE set), he is performing some of these same works in Paris and Stockholm - already refining some of the lines and harmonies he has "dug up" at the VANGUARD. (And so is Eric Dolphy, who has been part of Trane's working band since a month or so before the VANGUARD sessions). This continuing "phase" will last through at least the end of 1964 and produce his most accessible mature work : BALLADS; COLTRANE; COLTRANE & ELLINGTON; COLTRANE & JOHNNY HARTMANN; LIVE AT BIRDLAND; the fall 1962 & fall 1963 live European performances found in LIVE TRANE; CRESCENT and of course A LOVE SUPREME.

Then, following the increasing spiritual awakening signalled by A LOVE SUPREME, the sessions of February and May 1965 take the listener into choppier but exciting waters (THE COLTRANE QUARTET PLAYS, "One Down, One Up," "After the Crescent," etc.) Overt experimentation is once again the order of the day - and as if to confirm this, in the midst of these sessions Coltrane even re-records "Neptune" / aka "Brasilia" from the '61 VANGUARD sessions.

The struggle and foment of these sessions is followed by a more lucid "patch" which seems to emit a hard-won kind of peace: the session of June 10, 1965 which includes "Suite" (a wilder, abbreviated kind of LOVE SUPREME), the astounding "Transition" (perhaps Trane's single greatest recording, if I had to pick just one ) and "Welcome."

However, within a mere six days (June 16, 1965), Trane will record "Living Space" and "Vigil" - a daring duet between Trane and drummer Elvin Jones which anticipates the INTERTELLAR SPACE tracks of February 1967 (these are also sax-and-drum duets). This overtly experimental "mode" will last for the remainder of the Classic Coltrane Quartet's existence (i.e., through September '65)- and for the rest of his life. You cannot help wondering what Trane might have made of his final-phase "raw gems," had he lived for another 5 years. (The February 1967 "Venus" offers a tantalizing clue.)

Now, having pushed the saxophone to its "natural" technical boundries and a bit beyond- constantly trying for notes higher than the instrument was designed to produce- and yet still possessed of a relentlessly exploratory spirit, I have always suspected that Trane would have benfitted from, or even mastered, the emerging world of electronics and synthesizers. (It is known that, in the final months of his life, he was practicing with the experimental prototype of an electronic "doubling" apparatus - which enables a wind player to play multiple notes, simultaneously.)

It is THIS kind of perspective which makes his death a gaping wound in the fabric of African-American improvisational music which has still not healed : not only did his People, and Humanity, lose one of their greatest explorers, but perhaps the emerging electronic jazz idiom was denied the Great Creative Voice it never really had...At least, not in a way equivalent to what Trane did for purely 'acoustical' jazz.

So regardless of some uneven passages- which in themselves are quite instructive - you could not go wrong by investing in this set. I share Mr. Grabowski's distaste for Coltrane-Cultish "slush, mush & gush," but I will risk it, here: This is a generous, beautifully restored slice of bristling, no-holds-barred, relentlessy self-confrontational, creative LIFE. Is there ANYONE doing such things, to this extent, in music, today? Or, if there were, could we TOLERATE it? I'll leave it at that.
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on July 8, 2005
This set may be expensive, but it is worth every penny. Coltrane was at his peak in 1961. Although technically his playing would grow more sophisticated in later years, his level of inventiveness and inspiration are never better than here.

Prepare for many, many surprises. The previously unreleased material is still incredible. So for instance the totally unreleased Miles' Mode from the third night is an unbelieveably inspired piece. Other highlights I enjoyed include the Impressions from the first day (Dolphy is incredible on this track) and India from the fourth day.

Also, listen up for the crowd noises, which are preserved in their entirety. Before the third day's "Miles' Mode", Dolphy accidentally blows his horn, apparantly thinking Coltrane had given him the signal to begin. And now you can hear what the crowd is saying after the famous version of "Chasin' the Trane" - someone in the audience laughs and says "That was insane!!!".

I agree with thw reviewer who said that the final version of Spiritual is almost ruined by the ugly blatting noise of Garvin Bushell's contrabassoon - whether this is a result of inappropriate recording technique I do not know.

By the way, I have been through many articles and reviews describing the content of the discs, and I am amazed nobody has mentioned that the piece dubbed "Chasin' Another Trane" is actually a carbon-copy of a piece Coltrane recorded the previous year called "Blues to You". (Check the Atlantic album "Coltrane Plays the Blues - the attribution is particularly obvious if you hear the newly released alternate takes). The tune has NOTHING to do with Chasin' the Trane, being quite a different melody. Apparantly Rudy Van Gelder did not notice that the piece was already named!

Likewise the piece known as "India" is a piece from that same album called "Mr Knight".

This box set contains only four discs; but please remember that each disc contains about 70 minutes of music - twice the length of an LP album from the 1960s. There is no way any jazz fan could be disappointed with this set!!!
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on February 22, 2000
I own about 15 splendid Coltrane-cd's besides, but since buying this set some 8 months ago, I have heard little else. This is simply IT, Coltrane at his greatest! That is not to put down the mindblowing music of the following years with the great McCoy Tyner-quartet, but somehow while the music grew in spirituality, it lost some of the sheer joy and colour that overflows here. Eric Dolphy too plays with enormous inventiveness and originality - and a heartwarming, innocent joy. How strange that his playing turned some into an aggressive frenzy at the time! Of course, on a 1961 live-recording everything is not perfect, but overall the sound-quality as well as the playing of everyone involved is astounding. There are many bold experiments with arrangements and instrumentations - and somehow they all turn out beautifully (although the overexposed counterbassoon on the final "Spiritual" comes close to destroying a miraculous performance). Coltrane's own playing is filled with joy, sorrow, pain and ecstacy, and has not yet acquired the "superhuman" aura that marks his later playing. Monumental and utterly essential.
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VINE VOICEon December 6, 2005
John Coltrane can be a difficult nut to crack-- over the course of a relativey brief career, he covered an enormous amount of ground, and it was only the last decade of his life-- starting with his 1957 tenure with Thelonious Monk after he kicked his heroin addiction, progressing through his second term in Miles Davis' band and leading up to his great recordings as a leader for Atlantic and Impulse!-- that he really began to move on. In the years since Coltrane's death, the archives have been opened wider and wider and it's become apparent that Coltrane would record several pieces for release in one week that would never see the light of day because two weeks later, he'd have advanced even further. As such, to hear a snapshot like this set-- four days of recording over five nights in November of 1961 at Manhattan's legendary Village Vanguard-- can be both exciting and revealing. It also grants the luxury of having something longer than an album of one form to sink your teeth into.

In November of 1961, Coltrane had left Atlantic records for the fledgeling Impulse! label, and after the "Africa/Brass" record, this was his next recording. His band was in transition, and Trane brought into the Vanguard with him his working group-- himself on tenor and soprano saxes, Eric Dolphy on alto sax and bass clarinet, McCoy Tyner on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Elvin Jones on drums to the date. Workman was on his way out of the band and his replacement, Jimmy Garrison, would perform as well-- Trane seemed to be feeling out the role of the bassists, sometimes performing with both, sometimes with one or the other. Trane also used a few guests-- Ahmed Abdul-Malik performs on oud on three cuts (all takes of "India"), Garvin Bushell contributes oboe on two cuts (two takes of "India") and contrabassoon on one (one take of "Spiritual"), and Roy Haynes sits in on drums on one cut of "Chasin' Another Trane". The result is something amazing.

The musicians stretch out-- Coltrane is clearly searching for something, and in Dolphy he's got a frontline partner capable of matching his intensity. The two often pair soprano sax and bass clarinet or tenor and alto, with each receiving ample solo space. Coltrane's is largely exploratory, reaching and searching, Dolphy alternates between firmly rooted in tradition and fierce explosiveness. In the rhythm section, Coltrane had a band that would support his whims on this as songs stretched out sometimes as long as 20 or 25 minutes during ecstatic and frantic improvs. Talking about highlights is difficult because the whole set is awfully good, but certainly the November 2nd show is of exceptional quality, with the entire set being nothing short of earthshattering.

Large portions of this set have seen release before in various recordings-- "Live at the Village Vanguard" and "Impressions" were the two records released in Trane's lifetime, with several posthumous collections drawn from these sessions, but this set nicely pulls it altogether, remasters the sound so the whole thing sounds fantastic, and adds a booklet with an essay concerning the music, musicians, and performances.

44 years later, as I write this, this music still sounds amazing, revolutionary, powerful and inspired. There is work by Coltrane I prefer over this, but this set in its entirity is essential. Highly recommended.
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on February 4, 2004
John Coltrane, after leaving Miles Davis's group hot off the heels of "Kind of Blue," took to making jazz records of increasing brilliance, complexity and beauty. "Giant Steps," "My Favorite Things" and the underrated "Africa/Brass" showed Coltrane taking grand leaps and risky chances with his material, and succeeding! When deciding to record his first official live recording between Nov. 1-5, 1961 at NYC's Village Vanguard jazz club, there were many influences that possibly guided him to these performances: Sonny Rollins' own daring "A Night at the Village Vanguard," friend Eric Dolphy's brilliant playing and his interest in Eastern music. These things all coalesce into one of the best boxed-sets ever issued. The key compositions here, "India," "Impressions" and especially "Chasin' the Trane," show Coltrane playing his most free/avant-garde prior to the release of "The John Coltrane Quartet Plays" and "Ascension" (1965). Coltrane squawks and wails, but only after setting up each tune with wonderful riff after wonderful riff. His band, especially drummer Elvin Jones and bassists Jimmy Garrison and Reggie Workman (pianist McCoy Tyner is largely--and strategically--absent from many of these takes), provide a propelling background for Coltrane's explorations. Another key aspect to these recordings is the wonderful playing of Eric Dolphy, who seems to free Coltrane up even more. Other highlights include the first take of "Miles' Mode" and the second take of "Naima," which sounds quite different from the original on "Giant Steps," yet still packs the same emotional punch. Simply put, this set is indispensible for any jazz fan.
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on April 7, 2012
Just listened to the 20 minute long "Spiritual".
More than I can handle.
Eric Dolphy took me over the top.

Kinda like that Stevie Wonder song "Too High", these guys were stretching it to THE LIMIT,
and then stretching it even farther than that.
Got tears in my eyes while trying my best to not break down.
This music'll do that to you...
It's actually very dangerous, to concepts of "keeping a lid on it".

Then Trane comes back in after McCoy's solo and..
oh my God....
Maybe THAT's what its like to die and float up into heaven....


Eric Dolphy was an avatar.
E.....................verybody raves about Trane,
but Trane said DOLPHY was THE ONLY musician that was truly his equal...
Boy can you hear that on this set...

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