Not to put too fine a point on it, but Afro Blue Impressions by John Coltrane’s classic quartet is, quite frankly, one of the best live jazz albums ever made, by him or anyone else, and represents a high water mark in the career of a true artist. Now this classic collection has remastered and augmented for a new expanded edition (CD, digital, vinyl). And while it does have some issues, it’s still an improved version of an already great album.
Originally released in 1977, and issued on CD in ’93, John Coltrane’s Afro Blue Impressions has his classic quintet — pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, drummer Elvin Jones, and the man himself on tenor and soprano sax — firing on all cylinders as they blaze through such iconic ’Trane tracks “Naima,” Impressions,” and a cover of Rogers & Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things” during two shows in 1963: Stockholm on October 22, and Berlin on November 2nd.
Afro Blue Impressions also has them sitting a real sweet spot, as they use these tracks as jumping off points for some wild improvisations, but without going far with them as they would just a few years later, when they started to experiment with free jazz. “My Favorite Things,” for instance, clocks in at a tight but loose twenty-one minutes, far longer and relaxed than the original fourteen minute version ’Trane did on the 1961 album of the same name, but far shorter and more concise than the nearly hour-long one he did in 1966 on Live In Japan. As a result, this has some best renditions of “Lonnie’s Lament,” “Spiritual,” and the two songs that inspired the album’s title, “Afro Blue” and “Impressions,” that Coltrane ever recorded.
As you can probably surmise, Afro Blue Impressions is a must for anyone who like Coltrane’s music, or even just jazz in general. But even if you’ve had this album since it came out forty-six years ago, or just the CD for the last twenty, this new edition is well worth the upgrade.
For starters, the new remastering job is excellent, and makes this version sound much better than the one that the original CD. The sound is cleaner and fuller, making every instrument, every note, sound that much warmer and more distinct.
Assuming, of course, you have a good stereo. If you don’t, or if you listen to MP3s on an iPod with shitty headphones, you won’t notice as much of a difference. Though you’ll still notice something.
Then there’s the bonus tracks. While the sticker says there’s “6 Bonus Tracks,” there’s actually only three: “Naima,” “I Want To Talk About You,” and “My Favorite Things,” all of which come from the Stockholm show. And they’re not exactly new, either. “Naima” and “I Want To Talk About You” both previously appeared on the album The European Tour, while this rendition of “My Favorite Things” was on Live Trane: The European Tours. Still, they sound much better here than they did on those discs.
That said, this new version of Afro Blue Impressions does have a couple of issues that might irritate longtime fans of both the album and the musicians who made it.
When Afro Blue Impressions first came out on CD in 1993, it didn’t say where most of it was recorded. And the same can be said for when The European Tour was released on CD in 1988 (save for a vague “November of 1963”). But now that the dates have been confirmed, this information merely begs the question: Why not just release the Berlin and Stockholm shows on their own? Or at least on separate discs, since the tracks from the Berlin show comprise the entire first disc and the first track of the second, even though there’s plenty of room on the first disc for that lone tune?
More importantly, Why not release both shows in their entirety? Assuming, of course, all of the tracks exist. (There’s speculation online that the songs on the 1979 album The Paris Concert — “Mr. P.C.,” “The Inch Worm,” and “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” — which are said to be recorded in, “1961 or, as seems more likely, 1962,” are actually the missing tracks from the Berlin show, since those are the last three songs ’Trane reportedly played that night. But as with everything on the Internet, who knows if this is really true.)
Granted, these issues are only ones a purist — like me — would give a rat’s ass about. But given how many purist jazz fans there are…
But then, these issues wouldn’t be, well, issues if the music on Afro Blue Impressions wasn’t so engaging. And the fact that this album sounds even better now than it did before. Which is why, until someone releases Chasin’ The Train: John Coltrane Live In Berlin 1963 and Traneing In: The Complete Stockholm 1963 Concert, or whatever they’ll be called, this new edition of John Coltrane’s Afro Blue Impressions will do just nicely.