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John Coltrane: Blue World (Impulse!)

A review of the album of previously unreleased music from the saxophonist

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John Coltrane, Blue World
The cover of Blue World by John Coltrane

Our brave new digital world has laid waste to the market for physical music media, but a few niche categories are still viable. One is historical jazz packages. Consider, for example, four albums of previously unreleased John Coltrane material. Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall (Blue Note, 2005), One Down, One Up (Impulse!, 2005), Offering (Impulse!/Resonance, 2015), and Both Directions at Once (Impulse!, 2018) were all huge sellers. They owned the “Historical” categories of the major jazz polls in their respective years.

Now there is another, Blue World. The backstory: In 1964, Coltrane (surprisingly) agreed to provide music for a Canadian film by Gilles Groulx, Le chat dans le sac. On June 24 of that year, he went into Van Gelder Studios with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones and recorded eight takes of five tunes. Groulx used only 10 minutes of Coltrane’s music in his film, which quickly faded into cinematic obscurity.

Because of its short length and small track list, Blue World may not dominate the polls in 2019. But it is an absolutely stunning thing to hear now (in vivid Rudy Van Gelder sound). The opening commanding call of “Naima” stops you cold. Only one tenor saxophonist ever played a slow love ballad so hard. And it is a brand-new Coltrane record. Half a century collapses. You are in the moment with Coltrane’s burning fervor.

Blue World was recorded between the studio albums Crescent and A Love Supreme, a transitional period when Coltrane was moving from the order of harmonic complication to spiritual quest, which risks tumult. Songs from early in his career like “Traneing In” and “Like Sonny” observe the order but constantly threaten the tumult. The two takes of “Naima” are epic. The four members of the greatest small jazz ensemble of all time spill their guts. It is only 37 minutes long. Only fools will complain.


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Thomas Conrad

Thomas Conrad has a BA from the University of Utah and an MA from the University of Iowa (where he attended the Writers Workshop). He taught English at Central State University in Ohio, then left the academic world for the private sector. His affiliation with publications such as JazzTimes, Stereophile, The New York City Jazz Record and DownBeat has enabled him to sustain active involvement in two of his passions: music and writing.