Stories » John Coltrane's 'Blue World' makes npr: best reissues and archival albums of 2019'

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John Coltrane's 'Blue World' makes npr: best reissues and archival albums of 2019'

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And now, a moment of appreciation for the under-assistant recording engineers and studio gofers who toiled in anonymity in the dimly lit studios of the past. They didn't just get coffee - they were on site, taking notes about who played what instrument on which track, writing down the dates of sessions, and making sure that those dates were clearly marked on the tape boxes. They did this for albums that became classics. And singles that never left the garage. We know what happened on countless sessions that later became "important" because these anonymous workers took the time to notate the details as they happened. They trusted that someday, somebody out there would care.

Through streaming, a curious listener who wouldn't spend $80 on a boxed set can graze through its contents, cherry picking whatever seems interesting - but finding any certain version of any certain track usually involves more than a straightforward search. Scroll through an established artist's list of songs and you encounter "original" versions, live versions, edited-for-radio versions and demo versions of the same tune. Often, the quickest way to distinguish between them is to know who played on a particular version, or when or where it was recorded - the kind of information streaming services don't like to share.

This year, record labels and sleuthing researchers leaned on those scrawled morsels of information on tape boxes to bring out an astonishing array of music from the vaults. These include massive hauls of demo recordings, odd never-released curiosities and well known works that have been restored to the artist's original vision. Here are the best of them from this year.

Blue World, the previously unreleased soundtrack to an experimental Canadian film called Le chat dans le sac and featuring John Coltrane's classic quartet, offers a lesson on the importance of context in jazz. In Coltrane's timeline, it sits between two 1964 landmarks – the saxophonist's inquisitive Crescent and the spiritual meditation A Love Supreme. But the material on Blue World looks back at an earlier period in Coltrane's music - it begins with "Naima," first recorded in 1959 for Giant Steps. Coltrane was not known to look backward or to revisit previous works in the studio, and this "Naima" goes some distance from the well-known version – he's engaged in a full-scale recasting of the theme using more assertive, exploratory gestures. That lithe, beseeching tone brought its own truth to every setting.

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