BY JONATHAN VALANIA In its golden age, jazz was the radiator steam squealing out of the neon tenement soul of the postwar American night. Native son John Coltrane — who died 40 years ago today — was one those angel-headed hipsters tweaking the thermostat. You could bookend his sax mojo with the almost-pop My Favorite Things and the transcendental dissonance of Ascension. But Live at the Village Vanguard, Coltrane’s great white whale, swallows both of them whole.
Recorded live over four nights in 1961, this box set captures Coltrane just as he was making the transition from mortal to immortal. After star-making collaborations with Miles and Monk, he stepped into the spotlight fronting a band that was for all intents and purposes the Led Zeppelin of jazz: Eric Dolphy, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Reggie Workman, Jimmy Garrison and Ahmed Abdul Malik. For four nights at the dawn of the ’60s, Coltrane and band scribbled out the same eight pieces — the modal raga of “India,” the holy-soul jellyroll of “Spiritual,” the zig-zag blues of “Chasin’ the Trane” and “Impressions,” the physical graffiti of “Brasilia” and “Greensleeves” and the midnight honk of “Miles’ Mode” and “Naima”–telegraphing the decade’s looming radicalism.
JOHN COLTRANE QUARTET: India