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The Lobby | JOHN COLTRANE & ERIC DOLPHY - EVENINGS AT THE VILLAGE GATE (1961)


We have been propelled around 72 years back into a brief 80-minute modal respite with two jazz titans of totalitarian proportions: Coltrane and Dolphy, two monumental artists who’ve achieved a profound legacy through how many or how little masterworks they have played respectively. It doesn’t help that both of them died during the peaks of their careers. Let’s take these two in a good setting (let’s say the Village Gate), and allow them to do what they tend to do, and maybe better than most. Elvin’s on drums, McCoy on piano, and bass is being commanded by Art Davis and Reggie Workman.


We start with a rendition of Coltrane’s most famous mutation, My Favorite Things. When it comes to leaving big impressions upon the first glimpses of the performance, of course Elvin is quick to the draw. Sure, the piano may sound a tad drowned out in the sound quality, but if you love good drums then I think this will be a marvelous eighty-minute sweet-talking for you to attempt enduring. They keep things loose, flowing and distant with the primality of it all much closer than any other factor of this naturalistic post-bop equation. All the earth shakes and thumps everywhere except under your feet while the branches wriggle like hands breaking from cuffs and birdsong emanates in the distance. God damn, I could listen to these drums for an hour with a twenty minute bonus.


The saxophone performance enters around seven minutes in and avoids being boring like the plague, and how well it meshes with the drums may as well give it an unnecessary security blanket of interesting music. It’s a rocket thrust of trigger-happy hands and steadfast art. I’ve got oodles of love for the progression of this song, its jittering cajole-slathered writhe at the bliss of being performed by this specific lineup of musicians. Of course, it is up to the musicians to translate the joy of such a song to something our ears can properly pick up on, but they know what they’re talking about. The energy is there, the respite, the marvelous movement of the piece from the momentum of its beginning to the emergency brake of its end, it’s all gloriously present.


When Lights Are Low provides a more transparent look into the barebones of the more uninteresting spaces occupied by the band, where Elvin’s drums take a backseat and (likely, thanks to my dumb ass not being quite sure) Dolphy trying to pump as much fresh air into this tire as possible to the point of potential popping. It wails and wallops in repeated fashions but only at a distance, creating a significant detriment regarding the sound quality. Either that, or the performance manages to be lacking in terms of gripping the listener in favour of spitting out its dialogue and sprinting out in time for McCoy to take the helm as the vanguard of the song’s soloing. It’s like McCoy trying to apologize to the listener for the erratic, drunken and blindingly fast behaviour of the Dolphy, although another layer is the fact that it’s a bit more gripping than Dolphy’s display.


Impressions, on the other hand, immediately asserts the amount of horses masterminding its engine from the get-go, opting to crater into the abstracts of rhythm with undulating fervour and carelessness. This results in (if I’m gonna get just the littlest bit imaginative) a crash back into the wilderness free from dull city lights and sidewalk greys, where the instruments gallop and gestate like gelatin foals. Focusing on the soloing efforts, acceptable as they are, permit but one thought: welcome to one August of 1961 in the Village Gate, with your special performers: Elvin Jones and his fellas. Hilariously, some of the best refreshments composition-wise have nothing to do with the nitty-gritty of the structure of the piece: the clapping from the audience following each exciting development and often lesser-than-exciting resolutions can often be beneficial to the structuring and pacing of the song. Finishing the piece leaves you with the knowledge that maybe placing Elvin at the very front of what can be heard isn’t such a terrible idea after all; most of the time spent on this track involved him slaughtering the drums.


A fade-in tosses us into Greensleeves with as much of a casual behaviour as the eyes of a window shopper. McCoy fuels this venture with his piano serving as the skeleton alongside the disciplined beat of Elvin. Here’s a temporal confession, I’m about halfway through this piece and not much has gripped me or provided me much to write about. Perhaps it is thanks to the re-running of tropes having already been established within previous songs: they’re good musicians, Art, Elvin, the sorts. They’ve got the ability to communicate great emotion from their more-than-passable technicality and it can often be a coin toss as to whether they can achieve that emotional response through reciting pre-existing numbers by them. The distant vignette of the post-bop hurricane is there, but the instrumental technique’s got a good amount of sludge in its psychological nitties and gritties. I listened to a 16-minute decently performed recitation of Greensleeves and all I documented was this paragraph.


The final exhibition is a 22-minute Africa, a piece whose studio version I happen to love. It has a sufficient whirl to it, the melodic backbone being asserted within the very second it is invited back to being performed through Coltrane’s band. This is where Elvin’s drums would be treated best in regards to the dynamics of the song if they were to be lowered down a bit in the mix to allow any other instrument to brandish the splendour of the forefront, for Africa isn’t necessarily a piece built off the backs of excellent drumming but rather copious amounts of immersion provided by the interactions between the instruments that aren’t inherently percussive. The peripheral of the listener is then stifled, clouding the jazz-laminated mirage of presumably continental wonder in unsatisfied and preventable exhaustion.


The fog is lifted a generous amount in the halfway point of the song, where we are met with the gentle conversation of upright bass. After this limbo state, we are given foreshadowing of a buildup that does tend to be quite squandered and spoiled by the volume of the drums, but not for long given the following solo. Said solo happens to be fine, one of Elvin’s more passable efforts which is then followed by the return of the starting melody. It isn’t necessarily satisfying, though it can be an excellent reassurance for those who find themselves bored by the piece. But, it does especially serve as the ultimate declaration of security and hospitalization for anyone who felt sorely uninterested in the dynamics presented by the album. It also doesn’t help in letting the review have just as little to present and say. Hey, whaddya know.


Score: 6.5/10.

Trajectory of listens past the first: neutral.

Written 7/20/2023, 6:00 - 7:39 PM.


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