Next month, John Coltrane’s label, Impulse!/Ume, will release Blue World, a new album by the legendary saxophonist. Recorded in 1964 and largely unreleased until now, the 37-minute session was intended as a soundtrack for Le chat dans le sac (“The Cat in the Bag”), a film by the Quebecois director Gilles Groulx. Only 10 minutes’ worth of the music actually appeared in the film, and none of it has appeared on any prior album.
Like Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album, an unearthed mid-Sixties Coltrane LP released for the first time in 2018, Blue World features the saxophonist helming his so-called classic quartet with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones. The album was recorded in June 1964, in between two celebrated Coltrane masterworks: Crescent and A Love Supreme, tracked in April and December of that year, respectively.
The session stands out among those and many other Coltrane Impluse! dates: Typically the saxophonist used his studio visits to document new pieces, but Blue World consists of new takes of pieces he’d recorded before, including the classic ballad “Naima,” which debuted on 1960’s Giant Steps; “Village Blues” and “Like Sonny,” from 1961’s Coltrane Jazz; and “Traneing In” from 1958’s John Coltrane With the Red Garland Trio. The title track employs the chord changes from “Out of This World,” a Harold Arlen song that Coltrane had recorded for 1962’s Coltrane. A midtempo six-minute piece on which the saxophonist solos with slow-burning intensity over a hypnotic waltz-time vamp, it’s available to hear above.
Set in Montreal in 1964, the French New Wave–influenced Le chat dans le sac charts the relationship of two lovers. In the liner notes for Blue World, renowned jazz scholar Ashley Kahn traces how Coltrane’s music ended up in the film, via an interview with actress Barbara Ulrich, who played the female lead in the film (also named Barbara), and had a relationship with the filmmaker.
“I met Gilles when I did the screen test for Le chat and it turned out we were both jazz fans,” she tells Khan. “When we moved in together, it turned out we had 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.”
Groulx knew Jimmy Garrison through a mutual friend, and the bassist passed along the director’s request to use Coltrane’s music in the film. The saxophonist agreed, and Groulx attended the session, which took place at engineer Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, where Coltrane made many of his classic records. Ulrich recalls to Khan how the details of the date arose:
“Gilles had a list of the music he wanted and later he told me when he gave the list to Coltrane, Coltrane said, ‘Okay, I can do this — I can’t do that, it’s not mine. OK I get it, I know what you want.’ Then they just started jamming and recorded for several hours. Then Rudy gave Gilles the tape and that was it. When he got back he was absolutely ecstatic. He knew exactly where he was going to use the music in the film.”
The master tape eventually found its way to the National Film Board of Canada, and Impulse! received it early last year. Just as Both Directions at Once was released 55 years after its 1963 recording, Blue World is coming out this year, 55 years after the session, and the release of the film.
John Coltrane’s Blue World is out on September 27th on CD and vinyl, and as a digital download.