Artist: John Coltrane Quintet featuring Eric Dolphy
Release date: March 10, 2015
So Many Things: The European Tour, 1961, the new live release from the John Coltrane Quintet, features a set of recordings made during Coltrane’s 1961 European tour. The band consists of Coltrane on saxophone, Eric Dolphy sax and flute, McCoy Tyner on piano, Elvin Jones on drums, and Reggie Workman on bass. This is a fascinating document of a group of excellent musicians during a transitional period, working things out on stage as they negotiated between the sheets of sound that made Coltrane famous and the freer style he would adopt later in his career.
This set, with its combined 4 discs approaching 5 hours in length, contains only 7 unique tunes among its 23 tracks. Included are several versions of a few numbers quite familiar to listeners familiar with the Coltrane songbook: “My Favorite Things,” “Blue Train,” and “Impressions” chief among them, with each version of “My Favorite Things” (listed as “My Favourite Things”) lasting more than 20 minutes. There is a wealth of music to process, with lengthy solo improvisations on each tune from the two horn players and substantial contributions from the rhythm section. While the playing is (as would be expected from the acknowledged jazz masters on these recordings) masterful, there are not any cuts that particularly stand out as being quintessential moments. Rather, this album feels like a work-in-progress, with some takes of some numbers being couched in fairly conventional arrangements (“I Want to Talk About You”), while others take unexpected twists and turns, as when the band really takes advantage of opportunities to stretch out on “My Favorite Things” and “Blue Train.”
Despite the fact that these recordings have been remastered, they are still live recordings that were originally recorded with what sounds like less-than-optimal equipment, a feature of this set that has both advantages and disadvantages. For careful listeners and jazz fans who are deeply enmeshed in the improvisations of their favorite soloists, this set provides a fresh set of solos to enjoy and study on well-known and important compositions. As is usual with releases like this, many practicing jazz musicians will scramble for their blank staff paper to attempt transcribing these excellent solos. However, this set of bootleg-quality recordings also has some problems—many of the tracks are very shrill, since the recording equipment used to document these concerts was incapable of capturing the nuance of an acoustic quintet. The horns are often shrill, the bass in-and-out at times, Tyner’s beautiful chord voicings and Jones’s subtle cymbal work and fiery bombs are often obscured by the lead instruments out front in the mix. Furthermore, if one is listening at an adequate volume to hear these instruments, Dolphy’s piercing flute causes a sudden volume jump and provides more of a shock to the ears that necessitates turning down the stereo. This is a problem typical of bootleg recordings, and is something that really detracts from the casual listening potential of this set.
Ultimately, So Many Things: The European Tour is full of captivating renditions of familiar tunes by a band full of crack musicians. It is fascinating to study how this group is working things out, transitioning from the sheets of sound found on Giant Steps into the freer playing and extended improvisations that have made Coltrane’s A Love Supreme so essential. However, the poor recording quality to be found on these discs ultimately makes this release better for careful study than casual listening.
Reviewed by Matt Alley