IN THE TEN YEARS that have elapsed since John Coltrane died in July 1967, the jazz avant-garde has been without a popular leader. Splinter vanguard groups have formed, but no one has emerged around whom a large number of musicians could find inspiration.
John Coltrane: The Other Village Vanguard Tapes (Impulse AS-9325) is a stirring reminder of the saxophonist's creative significance, recorded in November 1961, when the saxophonist was fervently exploring the outer reaches of harmonic patterns. His music was so intense and powerful that it provoked sharp divisions of opinion among listeners and critics alike. Some unappreciative critics even described his music as "anti-jazz."
The music on this two-disk set was recorded at the same time as the celebrated Coltrane 'Live' at the Village Vanguard (Impulse AS-10), which was released in 1962. Despite the 15-year gap in release dates, the music on the recently released album rings with fresh vitality. The new album offers an opportunity to examine the richness of Coltrane's imagination by comparing different versions of the same pieces recorded at the same time. It also gives an unusual chance to hear some hitherto unreleased work by saxophonist-clarinetist Eric Dolphy, whose career was cut short by sudden death in 1964 at age 36.
Besides Dolphy, Coltrane's group included pianist McCoy Tyner, bassists Jimmy Garrison and Reggie Workman and drummer Elvin Jones. Oboist-bassoonist Garvin Bushell was added on two selections and oud player Ahmed Abdul-Malik for one piece.
Coltrane's and Dolphy's work was characterized by slashing melodic thrusts. "India" showed how they could complement each other and still be different. Coltrane's melodic patterns were linear and sometimes he repeated figures to the point of being incantative. Conversely, Dolphy frequently employed melodic fragmentation and total distortion.
Though disparate, they could influence one another. In "India," for example, after Dolphy's solo, Coltrane takes up the former's thematic development, even using broken melodies and wrenching sounds.
All of the music on the album has a raw force - the streams of passionate melody jetting from Coltrane's horn on "Chasin' the Train," the calm lines of "Spiritual" or Coltrane, the melodist, shining through on the lyrical "Greensleeves."
Another newly released album of material from the '60s is Miles Davis's Water Babies (Columbia PC 34396), mostly featuring the memorable quintet led by the trumpeter - saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams.
The sessions were made between 1967 and 1969, and they bring back memories of how Davis sounded before he deserted jazz to play a grim kind of rock.
Although this is primarily an addendum to several available albums by this group, the performances are far superior to anything Davis has recorded recently. That alone gives it value.