The Complete Impulse! Studio Recordings covers recordings made by John Coltrane's "classic quartet" from 1961 through 1965. The "classic quartet" usually denotes Coltrane, pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones, and all the studio recordings by that ensemble are here. Also included are recordings made in 1963 and 1965 with Roy Haynes subbing for Jones, and one featuring bassist Art Davis added to the quartet.
These four years of recordings, filling eight discs, stand as Coltrane's most creative, searching period, although toward its beginning is a decidedly conservative note: the sessions that produced the spare and pretty Ballads album. Coltrane had come under considerable fire for the experimentalism and fire of his live Village Vanguard recordings, although he attributes the retreat to his inadvertent wrecking of his mouthpiece and his having to play with inadequate ones for some time after - ones that made his multiphonic flights impossible. Whatever the case, the chronological arrangement of this disc allows the listener to hear Coltrane progress ever farther in his quest for new musical expressions and deeper honesty in his communication. (Fans of the old albums will applaud the liner notes' helpful track listings for each original album, making programming easy.) By the time one reaches the recordings that made up First Meditations and spelled the turbulent end of the classic quartet, many worlds have been spanned since Ballads. And much beautiful and inspiring music has been made.
The eighth disc is made up of never before released outtakes of monumental compositions including "Crescent," "Bessie's Blues," and the second movement of A Love Supreme, "Resolution." While none of these outtakes differ markedly from the released versions, every Coltrane fan will be thrilled to hear them: after all these years, it's the next best thing to hearing Coltrane play again today, saying something new. The brief take of "Song of Praise," with its resonant sonorities, is especially moving.
This box also marks the first 20-bit remastering of the underrated jewel First Meditations and the material collected on the disc called Dear Old Stockholm. As with the earlier 20-bit reissues of the other separate albums, the sonic difference is marked, and should make even those who are deeply familiar with this music take another listen.
There are so many highlights, it's impossible to name them all! But these eight discs are remarkable for the breadth of Coltrane's musical vision - and not just in the difference between the first recordings and the last. I've said that Ballads to First Meditations is a big jump, and it is; but the picture isn't quite that simple. In the middle of disc one are the sessions for the Coltrane album (not to be confused with the Prestige album of the same name). Right after recording the scorching, fourteen-minute "Out of This World," Coltrane laid down his celebrated, tender take of Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes." Shortly thereafter, in another session for Ballads, Coltrane spun out his brief but furious "Up 'Gainst the Wall."
That pattern continues. Much later, in a 1965 session served up on disc four, Coltrane turned from the searching intensity of "After the Crescent" to the open-faced beauty of "Dear Lord." There were so many sides to John Coltrane's music that these kind of brilliant contradictions can be found all through this set, and we are all the richer for it. The Complete Impulse! Studio Recordings is a lovingly collected monument to some of the greatest music anyone has ever made.