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JAZZ

'Ultimate Blue Train': Another Coltrane Breakthrough

March 30, 1997|Don Heckman

Next week, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the original LP, Blue Note will issue an interactive CD billed as "The Ultimate Blue Train," which includes all five original tracks (using 20-bit super bit-mapping remastering, the latest, most sophisticated digital reproduction technology), as well as alternate takes of two tunes ("Blue Train" and "Lazy Bird").

The album can be used in standard CD players or in CD-ROM players; with the latter, users can sample video, photographs, personal reminiscences by the surviving players, interviews with other musicians and a discography of John Coltrane's other performances on Blue Note.

There have been other efforts to explore jazz via CD-ROM--among them, E-Book's "Louis Armstrong" and "Multimedia History of Jazz" for Compton's New Media, and producer Herb Wong's "Jazz Greats" compilations on TDC Interactive. Blue Note previously issued a jazz-oriented CD-ROM by Holly Cole in the interactive format. And N2K, the new interactive media label founded by GRP's Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen, is actively pursuing a program of releases using interactive elements--initially, "Gerry Mulligan: Legacy" and "The Instrumental History of Jazz."

When it was recorded in 1957, "Blue Train" was a breakthrough for Coltrane, a step forward in the expansion of his style--particularly obvious in the musical differences between his playing, with its envelope-stretching qualities, and the straightforward work of his associates. (Interestingly, he and Paul Chambers also played on "Kind of Blue.") But it was not a particularly big-selling album at the time of its release. Sales figures are unavailable for its initial release as an LP. Since Blue Note was reactivated by Capitol in 1985 (after more than a decade in disarray), however, "Blue Train" has sold about 225,000 copies in various reissue formats.

"We originally produced the interactive portion for inclusion in Microsoft's Encarta encyclopedia," explains Tom Evered, Blue Note's vice president of marketing. "But after [we] discovered two alternate takes from the original session, we realized we could produce a unique auditory and visual experience . . . by combining both segments."

Blue Note's desire to program the interactive aspects of the album in a fashion that will appeal to what the company describes as the "younger demographic audience" stumbles a bit in the execution, however. Moving around the program--from the video segment to the biographical segments and so forth--is not at all clear-cut, with no easily available "hot buttons" for the casual computer user.

Still, despite the glitches in the Coltrane release, the addition of enhanced, interactive material on reissues opens up even more opportunities to exploit the existing jazz catalog. Although Columbia vice president of jazz promotion and marketing Kevin Gore expresses satisfaction with the more traditional re-release packaging of his "Kind of Blue," he clearly is intrigued by the potential for further enlivening catalog sales through the use of interactive media.

"We'll take a very close look at what happens with 'Blue Train,' " Gore says. "But before we move into the interactive arena, we'll have to take a look at the cost factors involved in adding the new material, the video, the interviews, etc., to see if they can be justified by increased sales."

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