Hopefully by now you have seen part one of my review of the new John Coltrane album called Blue World.
In short, this music recorded for a rarely seen French Canadian film was recently re-discovered and is now being issued for the first time. The back story on this is quite interesting and if you haven’t read Part 1 of my review, please click here to jump to it as I explain the album’s genesis.
My review copy of the new vinyl edition of Blue World finally arrived and I have to say I’m very pleased.
With lacquers cut by Ron McMaster at Capitol Studios and remastering by Kevin Reeves at Universal Mastering all done off the original 1/4-inch analog tapes, the source material for creating this new LP is no doubt excellent (despite it being in Mono, with some inevitable anomalies on the master tapes due to aging).
The advance 192 kHz, 24-bit download I received certainly sounds very nice and warm and round when played through my Mytek Brooklyn DAC. The dark black medium weight vinyl pressing is quiet, well centered and generally sounding excellent. While this is not a fancy 180- or 200-gram disc, my copy sounds quite nice and I’m not hearing / seeing any of the nasty common 21st Century vinyl pressing problems gracing this issue. You can also now find Blue World streaming on Tidal in 192/24 MQA format (click here). It is available in HiRes up to 192/24 on Qobuz (click here).
Of the four versions, I think I am leaning toward the vinyl for my preferred playback option for a number of reasons I will go into in a moment. The 192/24 bit download is my second favorite as it sounds a bit more pure. Ultimately we’re splitting hairs here and both streaming versions are basically fine from my spot checks (I have not yet listened to them fully) but they sound a bit brighter to my ear, perhaps a result of the compression formats used for streaming… I am just guessing here, there could be any number of variables at play. In general, however, I like the sound of how the music is processed via the download and especially the vinyl better.
To my preference for the vinyl presentation of Blue World … I do wonder… given the nature of who recorded this music — the legendary Rudy Van Gelder — and when he did so (in 1964, 20 years pre-digital) whether he mixed this with vinyl pressing ultimately in mind.
That is — and I’m purely speculating here, folks — it might stand to reason that the high end of the analog master might be a little brighter to accommodate for inevitable reigning in of frequencies in the disc mastering process. So thus now that we can hear this music on LP — with all its inherent quirks and innefficiencies — maybe, just maybe, this is the way Rudy might have envisioned this music being played back someday. We’ll probably never know for sure but… it is something consider….
Back to the music, the thing that is coming through to me clearly is the sound — and feel — of John Coltrane’s classic quartet with McCoy Tyner on Piano, Jimmy Garrison on Bass and Elvin Jones on Drums. They were getting inside this music in their unique, distinctive way and that is what makes Blue World such as special release whatever way you decide to listen.
Here they were revisiting older Coltrane recordings originally made with different band members and an earlier stylistic approach to the music. Blue World thus gave this new-era quartet a chance to put it’s distinct stamp on the music. Tyner’s Piano and Elvin Jones’ drums are especially poignant, bringing new twists and drive to now-classic compositions like “Naima” and “Like Sonny.” This version of “Traneing In” points to the more modern sound invention Coltrane was steadily unleashing on the world, especially on his masterpiece-to-be, A Love Supreme.
For example, in trying to describe the difference between this version of “Naima” and the original (found on Giant Steps) I’d say that this band swings the tune more toward the outside. It pushes the rhythmic heart of the song forward beneath Coltrane’s remarkably restrained signature melody which rides above it all. Not that it is “out” in the sense of free jazz icons like Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and later Trane himself(!), but the arrangement and approach to the music moves away from the more staid (if you will) approach of the haunting and still beautiful original.
Beyond the band being different, I wonder if this significant stylistic difference in the feel of the music might have been somewhat impacted by the who, why and where of how Blue World was made compared to the original. Perhaps Coltrane was more comfortable working with Rudy Van Gelder who helmed this session as compared to his earlier recordings with Atlantic Records, driven by producer Neshui Ertegun and equally legendary-but-different engineer Tom Dowd. Something to consider that might have led to this looser feel to the music…
Coltrane had grown so much musically. It is super interesting to compare and contrast the takes. And while the originals will always be classic, I like the fresh approach here on Blue World. The mind boggles a bit as to what might have happened if Coltrane ever revisited other older material later in his career…
John Coltrane’s Blue World is essential listening for the serious Coltrane fan. However, even the casual fan who has only heard and enjoyed albums like A Love Supreme and Giant Steps will likely get into this album. There is no downside. Nice dark, well centered, quiet standard weight vinyl with period-accurate Impulse Records labels. Nice, if simple, packaging. Great timeless music.
Blue World is a win win release.