The debate about the value and quality of “lost” jazz albums in recent years rages on. This writer has covered John Coltrane’s Both Directions at Once (1963), Mingus Live in Detroit (1973), Monk in Copenhagen (1963) and Getz at the Gate (1961), all on these pages and all of which are worthy because respectively :it depicted an artist in transition, is the only known recording of an artist playing with that particular band, or, in Monk’s case, a live performance with what is considered his best quartet. Getz played with a lineup not heard on his other albums and his, like Coltrane’s, marked a transitionary period. Recently Rhino just issued Rubberband, lost recordings from Miles Davis with contemporary touches. It’s hard to think that Davis envisioned this as an album and critics have largely panned it. So, that’s the opposing side of the debate. Are these just money-grabbing efforts to capitalize on the status of these icons? John Coltrane’s Blue World could be argued from both sides although one side clearly has the edge.
Let’s be contrary and take the negative side first. There is only one new piece on this album. Most of them are re-recorded versions of earlier material. Secondly, it is far shorter than most Coltrane albums, clocking in at only 37 minutes. Yet, this is John Coltrane and virtually any reason to unearth previously unissued material of his is a worthy endeavor. Even though these are mostly redone pieces from his Atlantic years, it is notable that they are performed, some for the first time, by his classic quartet of McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. Blue World reveals Coltrane’s personal progress, as well as the interactive consistency and sonic details the Classic Quartet had firmly established as their collective signature by 1964. This signature was so assured and dramatic, so buoyant and different from the sound Coltrane had delivered before. And it is significant that this recording session – whatever the ultimate driving force was – happened in between two of Coltrane’s most expansive, spiritually transcendent records that would set the tone for the rest of his musical career. Also, this was an unprecedented move by Coltrane, recording new versions of previous songs. Since 1959 everything he had done in a studio was new. And, let’s be serious – can you blame the Impulse!label? Both Directions at Once was a global success, already having sold over 2.5 million copies.
While most of these “lost” albums trace to a box of tapes found in an attic or basement, the story behind Blue World is unique. WGBO’s Nate Chine, host of Jazz Night in America puts it succinctly, ‘Coltrane recorded this music for a film in Montreal. It’s a cornerstone of the Quebecois film movement. But outside of that movement, it hasn’t been widely seen. So, the film historians and the jazz scholars didn’t connect the dots here and because the music wasn’t cataloged by the label it fell into this kind of blind spot.”
Early in 1964, the year he recorded A Love Supreme, Coltrane was approached by a Quebecois filmmaker, Gilles Groulx. Groulx was planning his film Le chat dans le sac, a love story set in Montreal with political undertones. A die-hard Coltrane fan, Groulx was fixated on having Coltrane record a soundtrack for his film. Groulx approached Coltrane via a personal connection with bassist Jimmy Garrison, and amazingly, Coltrane agreed. So right between the recording sessions for Crescent and A Love Supreme in June of ‘64, John Coltrane brought his classic quartet into Van Gelder Studios to do something virtually unprecedented for him: revisit and record earlier works.
Gilles Groulx was at Van Gelder, watching the session, listening. It’s unclear how much creative input the filmmaker had, and how much conversation happened between him and Coltrane, that yielded this rare kind of session. Recorded on 1/4″ analog mono tape, the session was mixed by Rudy Van Gelder at Van Gelder Studios on June 24, 1964. Groulx took the master to Canada to use in his film, although he only included ten minutes of the 37-minute recording. Blue World has been mastered from its original analog tape by Kevin Reeves at Universal Music Mastering in New York. The new vinyl edition’s lacquers were cut by Ron McMaster at Capitol Studios. Like Both Directions at Once, Ravi Coltrane is the executive producer.
Here is the tracklist, denoting which appeared in the film as well:
1, Naima (Take 1) 4:35 (appears in film)
2. Village Blues (Take 2) 3:46 (2:33 minutes of which appear in film)
3. Blue World 6:08 (new) (appears in film in two places)
4.Village Blues (Take 1) 3:47
5. Village Blues (Take 3) 3:47
6.Like Sonny 2;43
7. Traneing In 7;39
8. Naima (Take 2) 4:08
Much of it, as many of you know, is familiar and either at ballad or mid-tempo. The quartet plays most aggressively on the title track and “Traneing In.”
As per Both Directions at Once comprehensive liner notes come from Coltrane historian Ashley Kahn. The history of the film and Gilles Groulx’s relationship with Coltrane are revealed in fascinating detail. Here are a couple of excerpts: “Then there are those who have known about the jazz legend’s role in Le chat since it happened, among them the film’s surviving participants like the actor Barbara Ulrich. She played “Barbara” in the film – her first major cinematic role – and she became Gilles Groulx’s life companion in real life, uniquely positioning her to the know the why and how of Coltrane’s contribution. ‘I met Gilles when I did the screen test for Le chat and it turned out we were both jazz fans,” she says. “When we moved in together, it turned out we many of the same albums –jazz was holiness to Gilles, and he had every Coltrane album that ever came out. Coltrane to him was an absolute master.” And this one – “Ulrich still sees them as two peas in the same creative pod –deep thinkers who worked diligently on recreating their respective modes of expression. Both tall and quiet. Both deeply philosophical and self-critical: “When Gilles finished his films, he hated them. He was extremely demanding of himself. But with Le chat, he was always terribly cognizant of the fact that Coltrane accepted to do the music, and, for him, Coltrane remained one of the greatest.”
There is much more to the story. If you’re a Coltrane collector or fan, it behooves you to add this to your (growing) collection It is available in all formats. If you’re a historian or film buff or are just plain curious you can view the movie in its entirety in English by visiting https://www.nfb.ca/film/cat in the bag/or in French at https://www.onf.ca/film/chat