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Listening Report: John Coltrane Live At The Village Vanguard On Verve / Acoustic Sounds 180-gram Vinyl A Great Deal Collector’s Classic

Mark Smotroff revisits a jazz classic with a more seasoned mind set…

Sometimes we make mistakes but when it comes to collecting records, rarely do I have deep regrets. In building my collection, I’ve however had my laments, no doubt, about things I had which slipped through my fingers for one reason or another…  

There were those rare Rama Records promo Doo Wop singles from the 1950s which I traded for an original Kinks album or two back in the 1970s when I was just learning about records and collecting…  Then more recently there was a The Flaming Lips-related tribute to King Crimson’s In The Court Of The Crimson King which I didn’t realize was rare as hens teeth even then (500 made) so I didn’t pick it up that one time I saw it at Amoeba Music in Lost Angeles — I figured I’d be able to get a copy up here in San Francisco but I’ve never ever seen another copy of it since!   

Mark Smotroff revisits a jazz classic with more seasoned mind set…

And then there is that original copy of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme which I seem to have inadvertently purged when I moved, thinking I’d be able to easily find an upgrade (I have reissues now and even the Pure Audio Blu-ray Disc edition… but I still want an original Mono copy!). 

And then there was that copy of Coltrane Live At The Village Vanguard, a 1961 album which used to pop up all the time yet which has become elusive. I’m pretty sure I offloaded my mid-60s copy (a later pressing on the red-ringed Impulse Records label) as it wasn’t in especially great condition and in the late 1990s Impulse issued a fine four-CD boxed set of the complete run of shows from that legendary New York jazz venue. 

With that in hand,  I figured I was “good,” as they say these days.

Well, I’ve been looking for a clean and fairly priced original copy of Coltrane Live At The Village Vanguard since then and have yet to find my much desired “OG” copy in Mono or Stereo with the original orange Impulse Records label design.  I have found a few copies of the sequel (Coltrane Live At The Village Vanguard Again!) — two of them actually in pretty great condition!

But this first one has been surprisingly elusive.  

Indeed, looking at Discogs, at the time of this writing there are only 10 copies of Coltrane Live At The Village Vanguard from 1962 (when it was released) and only one is in Stereo.  Prices range from about $75 for a “G-plus” condition copy to more than $500 for a “near mint” version.  So… yeah… at those prices, I was indeed still “good” with my boxed CD set containing the full run of shows.

Fortunately, the good folks at Universal Music in conjunction with Verve Records and Acoustic Sounds have put out an excellent new edition which is about as close as many of us might well get to an original mint condition pressing of Coltrane Live At The Village Vanguard.  

Manufactured on 180-gram vinyl at Quality Record Pressing (QRP) with new mastering by Ryan K. Smith of Sterling Sound, this new issue is superb in most every way. It sounds and feels like an early ‘60s Impulse album. Except, maybe it is better:  the new vinyl pressing is arguably quieter than most any 1962-era versions one might find save for a brand new unplayed copy some super savvy collector or dealer might have warehoused from old store stock.  

The new black vinyl pressing is dead quiet and perfectly centered.  And the recording quality is excellent of course, as captured in the club by Rudy Van Gelder and produced by Impulse Records head Bob Thiele back in the day.  

It is quite amazing to consider the audience size in The Village Vanguard for these performances. I often think of Coltrane as this deity-like legend with throngs of followers hanging onto his every spiritual skronk. But listening here, it sounds like there are maybe 15 or 20 people there in the club at best!  Can you imagine what it must have been like to be there when Coltrane and his amazing band crash into “Chasin’ The Trane” for the first time?  This still modern-sounding, future-pointing modern blues-of-a-sort apparently hadn’t even been written down: the band just launched into it and improvised on the fly — perhaps the purest sense of what jazz-as-we-now-know-it-today  is about in many ways. 

Of course you might ask why I don’t just listen to my Village Vanguard CD set and forget about the vinyl? I do listen it sometimes, but there is something to be said for hearing these specific takes which the artist chose and sequenced for this album in the form for which it was originally recorded and mastered. Hearing it on vinyl creates its own distinctive mood somehow. 

Anyhow, for less than $40, this new Verve Records / Acoustic Sounds edition of Coltrane Live At The Village Vanguard should be a must-get release if you haven’t already picked up a copy.  The cover art is, as with most of the Acoustic Sounds series, a beautiful recreation of the original design, featuring the thick cardboard stock of the period and the same sort of laminated artwork found on the originals (arguably nicer than most originals actually).  And then there are the beautiful, period-accurate orange and black original design Impulse Records labels on the discs.

All this rounds out Coltrane Live At The Village Vanguard into a classic sight and sound jazz vinyl experience. 

Get it while you can before these start going up in price! 

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