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By now you’ve probably heard the story behind Blue World, the second “lost album” of John Coltrane’s to arrive in 15 months. At the behest of Gilles Groulx, a Canadian filmmaker who wanted to use Coltrane’s music in his 1964 film Cat in the Sack, the classic Coltrane quartet — pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones — entered the studio to revisit several previously recorded compositions. The fact that this approach was unique in the band’s history accounts for some of the buzz around Blue World, but not as much as the timing of this session: It was sandwiched between the recordings of Crescent and A Love Supreme, which together constitute the gravitational center of Coltrane’s universe.
It’s a slim volume, 37 minutes in all — only a quarter of which made it into Groulx’s film — and likely to have listeners largely scratching their heads at the hype. “Naima” appears twice, and it’s worth comparing with Tyner’s initial recordings of the song in 1961; his solos are busy and sparkling, but in the intervening years he had learned to convey introspection, as well. Two takes of “Village Blues,” which debuted in 1960, better capture the moment. Coltrane’s flights make the original sound comparatively tentative. But only a new take on “Traneing In” (from 1957) and the title track, apparently written for this session, really sizzle. “Blue World” occupies the expansive landscape of Trane’s last years. The theme sets the mood and tempo, with the tenor solo lightly tethered to the modal vamp. It’s an impassioned and well-modeled statement, but does it tell us something we didn’t already know about Coltrane in 1964? Not really.
With a figure as groundbreaking, iconic and influential as Coltrane, there will always be an appetite for new discoveries. And we may enjoy hearing the quartet run through some of the old book. But coming on the heels of the far more revelatory Both Directions at Once — Trane’s previous “lost album,” which contained new compositions that tracked his transition during this period — Blue World barely satisfies that appetite. — Neil Tesser
Featured photo by Jim Marshall.