John Coltrane: The Complete Sun Ship Session – Mosaic Records (3 vinyl discs)

by | Aug 13, 2013 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

John Coltrane: The Complete Sun Ship Session – Mosaic Records (3) 180gm stereo LP Box set MRLP 3005 –  [Recorded 8/26/65] – (Single LP issued on Impulse AS-9211, Aug. 1971) – Remixed from the original three-track masters ***½:

(John Coltrane-tenor sax; McCoy Tyner- piano; Jimmy Garrison- bass; Elvin Jones-drums)

Mosaic Records has always been the label that jazz completists seek out to obtain the definitive work of both legendary and lesser known (to the general public) artists, who have helped define the many jazz idioms that  collectors seek. Mosaic has sought out hidden and seemingly lost tapes of jazz giants, whereas other jazz labels have been satisfied to just issue readily available material.

Although the original issue on Impulse Records of John Coltrane’s Sun Ship consisted of only five master tracks, Mosaic Records was able to track down from the newly discovered original reels, the existence of unedited alternate takes, false starts, and edits, as well as recorded conversations between producer Bob Thiele, and Coltrane.

The Sun Ship session was recorded during 1965, among Coltrane’s most prolific years, at a time when his music was going through a period of extreme evolution. It was at the end of the period of his classic quartet comprised of the rhythm section of McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and the legendary Elvin Jones on drums. Sun Ship documents the group at the crescendo of their creative peak, just a matter of months before the departure of Tyner and Jones.

The music found on this session is powerful, sometimes chaotic, and at times somber, while seemingly prophetic, not knowing that Coltrane would pass away just two years later. Coltrane’s tenor invokes a spiritual tone, and is also wildly free, while Garrison and Jones swing with a loose groove. When Tyner has his moments he solos with thundering chords and commanding keyboard runs.

Hearing this music over thirty-five years later, the impact is no less stunning and contemporary in an avant-garde fashion today than it was when first recorded. The unedited tapes with both complete alternate takes, false starts, and inserts provide a window into Coltrane’s creative musical imagination. The short conversation snippets found throughout the LPs, though not containing any historical significance, remain interesting, as John can go from a humorous aside immediately into a burst of passionate playing like he was plugged into a high current electrical outlet.

Record 1, Side A, has three takes of “Dearly Beloved,” including a false start. Side B has the first two takes of “Attaining.” Record 2, Side A, continues with takes 3 & 4 of “Attaining” plus the first three takes of “Sun Ship.” Side B of the 2nd LP features the released version of “Sun Ship” as well as the album version of “Ascent” (Take 1). Jimmy Garrison’s extended bass solo is the lion’s share of this track, and is masterful.

The third LP has five takes of “Ascent,” on Side A, and they are incomplete versions and inserts. Side B is made up of a full alternate version of “Amen” and the same released 8:17 track from the Impulse issue.

The acoustics on these records is stunning with kudos going to Kevin Reeves for the remix, and to Kevin Gray for the remastering. Listening to Jimmy Garrison’s solo on “Ascent” makes you feel like he is just a few feet away…

The Complete Sun Ship Session box set is tailor-made for the hardcore John Coltrane enthusiast, a special prize for the chosen few who would savor every note recorded by John. Though the music presented here can sound jagged and dissonant to the general public, there remains an audience of Coltrane fans and young inspired musicians, who will find great pleasure in the exploratory, wildly creative emotional roller coaster ride that Coltrane leads as chief engineer. Limited to only 3500 box sets, it would be wise to contact Mosaic Records through their web site ( to purchase your set before this issue sells out.

—Jeff Krow


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