John Coltrane Africa / Brass (1961) HMV

Track Selection: Blues Minor (Coltrane)


Booker Little (tp) Britt Woodman (tb) Donald Carrado, Bob Northern, Robert Swisshelm, Julius Watkins (frh) Carl Bowman (euph) Bill Barber (tu) Eric Dolphy (as, bcl, fl, arr, cond) John Coltrane (ts) Pat Patrick (bars) McCoy Tyner (p) Reggie Workman (b) Art Davis (b -1) Elvin Jones (d)

Recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, June 7, 1961


Coltrane’s first record for Impulse, and a monster of a record it is, fizzling with energy and new ideas, richly textured with brass arranged and conducted by Eric Dolphy, Elvin Jones powering the whole thing like a runaway train, and Coltrane setting out his new direction.

Africa occupies the whole of one side, two other tracks on side two, and they all engage you the whole way through. I was tempted to rip Africa in its entirety but  that’s for you to go get.

On a more serious note, I am required to eat a large serving of humble pie. First I though Africa/ Brass was one of Coltrane’s later, spiritual recordings. Wrong, its 1961. Second I thought I didn’t like his Impulse period. I bought it without knowing it was an Impulse. What a dummy. It’s an HMV first UK issue of Impulse

So by accident, for all wrong reasons, I got a great record. I also learned more things in the process. Mainly its good to always try something new. Even if it doesn’t always work out, the next choice might, so mistakes are good. Second, an unknown and ever-changing proportion of what you think is almost certainly wrong.

Another slice? Don’t mind if I do.

Vinyl: HMV CLP 1548, UK first release of Impulse A6

Nipper on dark red label, mono, heavy vinyl, gold type that is hard to read. Looks very traditional, like you might find on classical records. Not at all “Coltrane Africa/ Brass” Great laminated cover though.

Interesting, this is a pressing by EMI. The matrix is the Impulse catalogue number, and machine stamped. It looks similar to Decca, but Decca letters are engraved in a straight line. EMI’s follow the curve of the record. Could be useful to know.

The US Impulse run-out indicates Van Gelder mastering, while the UK press is a local mastering from copy tapes sent over, so it may be sonically different. But EMI engineers knew their stuff. The Beatles, anyone?

Collectors Corner

Source: West London shop, one of four interesting records found that day.

I don’t think I have seen the UK original before. An autographed Impulse was auctioned recently on eBay by Sister Ray in Soho – the guys behind the counter showed it to me, so I have seen but not got an autographed copy It sold for £358. Mine cost me £27 after haggling- “This record is worthless. Is not autographed. I want discount“, so I don’t feel so bad about missing the autograph.

19 thoughts on “John Coltrane Africa / Brass (1961) HMV

  1. Pingback: Chasin’ The ‘Trane: The Impulse! Albums Vol. 1 | Transducer

  2. I got a HMV pressing of this record as well and the sound is a knockout. Can’t stop listening to Greensleeves. I’m on track to get all the Impulse catalog on UK HMV..!


  3. I have an Italian version of this LP QELP, 8049 which is somewhere between an Impulse and something that looks like the HMV dog but the pressing has an RVG stamp on the run out groove so it looks like some territories cut their own version and others received them directly from the US.


  4. Thanks, Tony. Didn’t read the book. I’m just wondering what is the difference between two-track and stereo. Wasn’t all of Blue Note (and Prestige and Impulse for that matter) two-track from 1958 on?

    But I’m pretty sure what Cohen wants to say is that Rudy wasn’t monitoring in stereo that early on. He stated so himself in an interview for All About Jazz. So BLP 1577 was done two-track, but blindly (“deafly”?), as he was just able to separate the instruments over two tracks, but not really hear what the effect was. Still an experiment. I’m pretty sure he got two speakers for the control room when he moved to Englewood Cliffs.


    • I don’t think that 2x mono = stereo. 2x mono is essentially 2 x 1 mono signal, which I think VG did so as to not miss anything. But Stereo is something different. But I agree, he does seem to have mastered using mono monitoring up to about 60-62.


  5. Yes, it sounds very different in Stereo. Just made a comparison with Spotify. Coltrane is in the right channel and sax-echoes in the middle. Drums at left , bass+piano in middle. Very nice indeed!
    I bet you it was recorded in Stereo on 2 track.

    Christian is right about RVGs. His studio was small and he did not have the resources like, for example, Capitol Records to do a double dedicated setup. At least in the beginning 57-ca 60 Rudy had mono in mind of coarse but there is when you think about it never the dreaded “whole in the middle” effect that plagues som of the early Stereos from that time. Sure he panned far left and right but kept bass and piano in the center.

    Personally I prefer the stereos but I have a couple of monos that sound very exciting indeed. I think they were mastered hotter and louder than their stereo brothers.


    • The early RVG “stereo” recordings circa 57-60 were not actually stereo at all but rather two track mono, produced to create better sounding mono recordings – but later used to produce “stereo” issues. For example BN 1577. I find quite a few of his “stereo” recordings to be quite poor…although 1577 is actually pretty good.


      • Tony, this is not entirely true. All early stereo Blue Notes have both a stereo and a mono master existing. RVG ran two machines in parallel between 1957 and 1958 (last session being recorded this way was Blakey’s “Moanin'”). Everything after that was recorded stereo only.

        So “Blue Train” is not recorded in stereo in order to achieve a better mono master, because a separate mono master was made anyway. Why did RVG then start to record in stereo? I was curious too and I asked this very question some time ago in a music forum and got an answer. Stereo had been around for some years in 1957, just not on vinyl records (yet). You could buy stereo reel-to-reel tapes (if you were an audio buff with too much money to spend) since 1953-1954. RVG was always curious about new technology and stereo was “in the air”. He even did some (pretty poor) stereo recordings for Atlantic in 1956, with the MJQ. So if these stereo recordings don’t sound so good is because he was still experimenting, but he learned quickly. I personally think he did some of his best stereo work in 1960-1961. After that it was hit and miss.


        • Christian, get a copy of Fred Cohens Blue note book. There is a section on it with an interview with VG, in which he clearly states BN 1577 was recorded in mono and two track tape, but not Stereo – the two track tape was basically filed away and not used until much later when it was used to create a “Stereo” mix, although it was never really proper stereo as the two tracks had been recorded to improve the quality of mono and were not strictly stereo recordings. These are VGs own words.


  6. One of my favourite Coltrane albums. Or maybe my favourite Coltrane album. Great job finding this very good sounding pressing. You know, Rudy Van Gelder didn’t do dedicated mono mixes, he only recorded two-track and then collapsed the tracks (like pressing the mono button) when doing the mono records. But still, he recorded his tapes with mono in mind. For that reason a lot of Blue Notes sound better in mono in my opinion, even if audio purists would bark at me that it’s just a reduction of the stereo mix. “Africa/Brass” has a huge soundstage when heard in stereo, so I was surprised how well it sounds here, too! For one, everything in the center of the stereo mix sounds a bit louder in mono, so the bass is more pronounced on your record. Which is good, no?

    Well, enough of this audio talk. Enjoy the record, it will grow on you even more with time!


    • Stereo RVG original US Impulse just added to my “wants” list. You are spot on. Its not like mono was a choice, its what they had, but I can see how expanding the soundstage with stereo would open up that huge sound. Upgrade required.

      I should also have added this is the first “Quartet” I have come across with fourteen musicians. 14tet. Also worthy of note McCoy Tyner really swings here, and Art Davis as well as Elvin Jones powers it along.

      Listening to it on my PC speakers is quite a different experience to a full system flat out, but it still sounds remarkably good.


    • RVG recorded and mastered exclusively mono until around 1957 when he started to record two track as well as mono. His first stereo masterings were taken from those initial two track tapes but still mastered using one speaker. Proper stereo recording/mastering didn’t start until around 1961/2, after which all mono recordings were fold downs from the Stereo. This title I believe was originally recorded in Stereo.


      • Hi Tony & ljc I just found the impulse mono A-6 with RVG on the run out in my collection. I notice my father has written December 1961 on the inside sleeve. I am quite new to this but would say this looks in near mint condition. I might have to pop down to sister ray to see how it compares to the one they sold.


          • Thanks, he was studying out there at the time and seems to have got quite a few other originals for example on the Ole Coltrane Atlantic 1373 album he has crossed out George Lane on Flute and changed it to Eric Dolphy. Your site is helping me to rediscover some great albums and give them a much needed clean!


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