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John Coltrane: The Complete Sun Ship Session

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It stands to reason that almost any box set of an album’s “complete sessions” is primarily for completists. That’s doubly true for one that (a) contains no unreleased tunes, and (b) is vinyl only. The Complete Sun Ship Session, a three-LP collection of every take from the 1965 date (posthumously released in 1971) for John Coltrane’s classic quartet, fits all these conditions. For listeners who aren’t of the Coltrane-obsessives-with-audiophile-turntables class-say, those who might buy Verve’s CD version of this set-the question is: What do breakdowns, inserts and a scattered few complete alternates of Sun Ship’s five released tracks have to offer?

In inventory terms, the answer is a bit disappointing. David Wild’s liners promise “all of the takes as they evolved, as well as the surrounding conversations.” That’s a technically correct manifest, but sounds more bountiful than it is. Four out of the five tunes are given exactly one complete alternate take, and in three of those cases that alternate is appreciably inferior to the master; Take 1 of “Attaining,” for example, has a lackluster, often redundant McCoy Tyner solo. (Take 1 of “Amen” is equal to the released Take 2, but with a more cohesive ensemble on the theme-a subtle change.) The incomplete takes for these are all false starts, not presenting enough development for any real insight.

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