Written by 5:00 am Audiophile Music

For Serious Coltrane Fans: Europe ’61 Concerts Compiled

Mark Smotroff finds so many things worthwhile in new Coltrane live compilation.

A lot of modern day music people think that obsessive fanaticism with certain pop artists began with Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. You know, those artists with a following so hardcore and so passionate that their fans not only track down every official release but also look between the cracks to find the unofficial unauthorized releases.

ColtraneEur61b.jpgOver the past 50 years, a fertile underground network of collectors and traders emerged roughly coincident with the advent of lower cost high quality home recording gear (cassettes, reel-to-reels, 8-tracks, etc.). These compulsive fans would record everything and anything by their favorite artists,  swapping tapes made off of TV and radio performances or even live recordings made on portable recorders snuck into concerts under heavy overcoats, backpacks and in their girlfriend’s purses.

(This is the same network of fans who now support wonderful legal downloadable/streamable sources like Archive.org and the many artists who are selling their shows at places like Livedownloads.com and Wolfgang’s Vault…. but that is another story entirely.)

Anyhow, contrary to popular belief, this sort of fanboy mentality began way before rock and roll, particularly among fans of jazz and opera.

Heck, I know of at least one instance of this sort of obsessive need to document music history going as far back as the 1940s. 

The 1940s, you question?

Oh yes. 

And if you don’t believe me, get thee onto thy Interwebs and search for the now-legendary Duke Ellington concert from Fargo North Dakota which was recorded — with the artists’ permission, mind you — from in front of the stage onto a recordable disc device which two students had access to back in the day (along with some good microphones!).  Eighty years on, these recordings are acknowledged as the only known document of a complete Duke Ellington concert from the period. Not only is the performance wonderful, but the fidelity is shocking, rivaling live recordings made many years later on magnetic tape (the complete session has been commercially released over the years).

Fans of saxophonist and bebop jazz co-inventor Charlie Parker were similarly obsessive. In recent years a multi-disc CD set was issued compiling recordings — of just Parker’s solos! — captured by an obsessive fan on a portable wire recorder in the early 1950s.

I think you get the point…

So where am I going with all of this?

SoManyThingsDisc.jpgWell, recently I was happy to learn of a compelling new release from a label I’d never heard of before called Acrobat Records: a four-CD set of field recordings by the great jazz saxophone master John Coltrane from his 1961 European tour.  Now, being a Coltrane fan, I have had my share of live-recordings-of-questionable-origin in my collection, most of which were released on budget-label CDs that started popping up in cutout bins back in the ’80s and ’90s. Some of these recordings had also been on vinyl LPs of dubious origin, on albums with supremely unoriginal titles like “Live 1961” and “Live in Europe.”

None of that mattered, however; if you were a fan, you wanted to hear every breath of the artist’s performances, and the often wonderful variants between performances.  So you’d pick up these odd releases in addition to the official releases. Sometimes they’d sound decent, sometimes not so much. On these recordings by Coltrane, most times you’d just get a snapshot of a performance, with one or two “songs” from the performance taking up a full album side and/or quickly filling up the 60 to 80-plus minutes on the CD versions.

Any of this music was a musical gift from jazz heaven: something was better than nothing until we got a better version or a more complete set of performances.

The folks at Acrobat have assembled a quite enjoyable — and fairly priced — four-CD set called So Many Things documenting four mostly complete shows from the November 1961 tour by the John Coltrane Quintet (featuring Eric Dolphy on alto sax, bass clarinet and flute). This is apparently the first time all this music has been assembled in one place and put in the actual running order of the performances (as opposed to those chopped-up hodgepodge releases I mentioned earlier).

TraneDolphy.jpgSo Many Things includes first and second sets from a somewhat consecutive run of shows. This was a time when artists did two shows a night, early and late, for different audiences; a practice that rarely happens anymore in the current pop music.  The performances are from the L’Olympia in Paris (November 18),  Falkonercentret in Copenhagen (November 20), Denmark and Konserthuset in Stockholm, Sweden (November 23). They also include the second show from Kultuuritalo in Helsinki, Finland (November 22).

Now, again, I have to point out that some of this stuff HAS been released elsewhere and perhaps even in some better sound (I have a CD of one of the nights in Copenhagen that sounds a bit warmer and less distorted than this version). One of the shows was included in the seven-CD box set on Pablo Records called Live Trane The European Tours.

So what’s so special about this set? Well it IS handy to have all this stuff in one place in proper performance order, especially if you haven’t heard any of this music before. And it does come with a seemingly well researched booklet by set co-producer Simon Spillett. And the whole shebang can be found up on Amazon for about $25 which is a very fair price considering all the music you get in one place, much of it sounding quite good.

And I get it that “quite good” is not really what many of you want to read about here at Audiophilereview.com. You want fantastic! Stellar! Brilliant! Breathtaking!

But… ya know… much of this music IS stellar, brilliant and breathtaking even though the sonics are compromised. At the end of the day, it does come down to “the music” and sometimes one has to get one’s knees and fingernails dirty by playing in the mud of raw musicality.  So if you don’t have any of these 1961 European tour recordings, So Many Things is not a bad place to start exploring this music. You can always upgrade as you find better-quality recordings.

And along the way you will by then have unknowingly joined the ranks of the obsessive music fanatic.

Welcome aboard the Trane!

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