"Live at The Village Vanguard Again!" from 1966 finds the legendary John Coltrane returning to the famous Jazz club where he made his monumental live album five years earlier. Unlike the 1961 Vanguard release, "..Again!" finds Coltrane not only with a different group of players (bassist Jimmy Garrison being the only holdover) but stretching the music into extremely dissonant and exploritory realms. The addition of second saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders pushes the avant-garde envelope even further.
Despite the album containing only two tracks (and familiar Coltrane classics at that), they are performed in such a way that they become new and different pieces of music altogether. The first track, "Naima" (originally from 1960's "Giant Steps") begins with Coltrane stating the familiar melody before launching into a solo that begins to gravitate as far away from the piece's original structure as possible. Once Sanders takes over with his solo, it becomes an almost 'anything goes' free-for-all. Even when Coltrane returns to take the piece to its close, the mood has already taken a permanent switch from tender to turbulant.
"My Favorite Things" (which runs for 26-minutes here) opens with an astonishing six-minute bass solo from Jimmy Garrison. Here, Garrison explores the outer limits of his instruments using chordal strumming, harmonics and even diving into a Spanish-flamenco style melody. This leads into the piece proper with Coltrane's soprano saxophone out front. After Coltrane states the melody, the music once again shifts into free territory with Sanders performing a ferocious screaming tenor sax lead with embellishments from Coltrane on the flute and bass clarinet. When Coltrane returns to the soprano sax, both he and Sanders engage in a raging dueling sax conversation that almost sounds like a violent battle for center stage. When the main melody returns, Sanders backs Coltrane on the flute. In addition to the loose free spontaneoity heard throughout the piece, the rhythm section also stands out as drummer Rashied Ali's explosive drumming is enhanced by the percussion of Emmanuel Rahim giving the music an almost 'world' flavor.
Granted, "Live at the Village Vanguard Again!" is not for everyone. Most would probably want to stick with the classic 1961 recording instead of this one. However, it cannot be argued that "..Again!" contains some of Coltrane's most exploratory work and is perfectly in line with the other live releases from this period (the double-disc "Live In Seattle" and the epic four-disc set "Live in Japan") as well as his experimental studio work ("Ascension", "Meditations", "Kulu Se Mama" and his final studio sessions that would produce "Expression", "Stellar Regions" and "Interstellar Space"). If you have the ears for it, then this is definitely worth a listen.