CD review

John Coltrane –  Blue World

John Coltrane –  Blue World
(Impulse! Recorded 1964. Review by Rob Cope) 

“Naima take 1”, and so it begins. We are once again as listeners and fans treated to newly released, never-before-heard recordings from John Coltrane. Blue World continues in the footsteps of the posthumous release of Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album, from the Impulse! label in 2018.

New solos, familiar tunes. John Coltrane was famous for pushing our genre forwards, and so it’s rare to hear him re-recording tunes. Yet for the 1964 film Le chat dans le sac (The Cat in the Bag), Coltrane did exactly this. We have director Gilles Groulx to thank for persuading Coltrane to record the soundtrack for his film. But why now? The date of June 24 1964 appears to have gone unnoticed in session recording logs, meaning the music has occupied a blind spot these last 55 years. So, lucky us (I wasn’t alive in 1964), we can once again experience the thrill of a new Coltrane release.

Blue World features Coltrane’s “classic quartet”:  McCoy Tyner graces us with his presence on piano. Tyner’s expansive, wide note choice played behind Coltrane’s solos is a pleasure to listen to and leaves a lot of space for the harmony to develop in the solos (we’d expect nothing less from these all time giants of jazz!).

Bassist Jimmy Garrison drives the band forward with a power akin to a small fusion reactor. He creates so much energy for the rest of the band to feed off. Garrison marks the time coolly and is particularly featured on Traneing In, kicking things off with an unaccompanied bass solo. He’s so deft that at times it sounds like a duet. He slowly allows the listener to hear more and more of a blues form as things progress, which in turn creates a spectacular “launch pad” (as bassist Steve Berry would say), setting up Tyner and then Coltrane for killer blues solos. Energy, passion, firepower, turn it up… way, way, up.

Lastly, the great Elvin Jones on the drums. Elvin has space within the music to push and pull the feel as he wishes. His sense of timing, when to mark the time, and when to play cross rhythms keeps me gripped throughout. Elvin is a known exponent of polyrhythms and, at times, during the melody of Naima, if you focus on the drums, it’s hard to know exactly where beat one is! Then when they hit the improvisations, he hints and teases us with suggestions of double time before kicking things up a gear in the way Elvin does so beautifully.

The title track Blue World, starts with a very classy bass riff that must have been a joy to play. Garrison holds things down beautifully whilst Jones and Tyner join him in creating a very “film noir” atmosphere – (further modern listening, Andrew Hale’s 2011 LA Noire video game soundtrack from featuring Gerard Presencer) – but back to 1964. Coltrane plays out a beautiful, haunting melody, his tone at its vibrant best. The tonality is modal, the harmony is simple and without much movement, and whilst his band mates hold the harmonic fort, Coltrane takes us on a voyage of discovery through many tonal centres, the tension and resolution of his playing mesmerising and iconic as always. He hits the final melody with full momentum after his improvisation, something saxophonist Stan Sulzmann always champions. As the track progresses, Tyner joins Coltrane in stretching the harmonic boundaries, at which point Elvin weighs in with some busy, heavy groove fills in each bar and, before you know it, one last blurred half solo, half melody appears at the end, and things come to a crashing climax that would do the finish of any gig proud.

A magnificent time capsule, I just hope there are more unreleased Coltrane albums out there to come. What a joy for us all, at every age and stage, to share in this art.

Track List:

01 Naima (Take 1)
02 Village Blues (Take 2)
03 Blue World
04 Village Blues (Take 1)
05 Village Blues (Take 3)
06 Like Sonny
07 Traneing In
08 Naima (Take 2)

Blue World is released on Impulse! 27 September 2019.

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