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The (Unheard) Impulse! Records Story

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Beware of major multimedia conglomerates bearing gifts — not to mention press releases…

On June 6, the legendary Impulse record label will mark its 45th anniversary with the publication of the book The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records by Ashley Kahn; the release of 12 Best-Of Impulse CDs (including a 4-CD companion collection to the book); the national broadcast of the radio program The House That Trane Built (based on the book); and the kickoff of an international tour by the all-star group, McCoy Tyner Septet — An Impulse Tribute.

Which is all fine and good, to be sure. But why is Universal Music and Video (a.k.a. Verve Music Group, the current caretaker of the Impulse! Records catalog) releasing twelve (TWELVE!) lame compilation CDs? Especially when there are still hundreds of great Impulse! titles that have never been issued on CD, or – almost as frustrating – only as iTunes downloads and/or hard-to-find and ridiculously expensive Japanese import CDs.

Let's hope that before the 50th anniversary of this groundbreaking label five years from now, we fans of progressive jazz will have more to celebrate than another pile of irrelevant and unnecessary "best of" collections.

For starters, here are twelve Impulse! albums from the vaults that could have been reissued instead…

 1. Albert Ayler: The Last Album

It's great that there's been a renewed interest in this singular artist lately, prompting the long overdue reissue of Ayler's somewhat polarizing late Impulse! albums Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe and New Grass in recent years. However, his posthumous The Last Album remains unreleased, except for one track included on that new Ayler Impulse Story compilation. Why not just reissue the whole album too?

 2. Marion Brown: Sweet Earth Flying
 3. Marion Brown: Geechee Recollections

Best known, if at all, as one of the saxophonists who played on John Coltrane's Ascension, Marion Brown is one of the great unsung post-Trane jazz artists. However, only one of his four Impulse! albums, Three for Shepp, has ever been issued on CD. It is particularly strange that Brown's "cult classic" Sweet Earth Flying remains unavailable, not to mention the first of his "Georgia Trilogy" albums, Geechee Recollections.

 4. Alice Coltrane: World Galaxy
 5. Alice Coltrane: Lord of Lords

With all of the interest in Mrs. Coltrane's work lately, including her well-received new album Translinear Light, it seems odd that most of her Impulse! albums have only been issued on CD as outrageously expensive Japanese imports (or as iTunes downloads.) In particular, World Galaxy and Lord of Lords deserve to be more widely available.

 6. Gil Evans: Into The Hot

While the Gil Evans Orchestra's Out of the Cool has appeared in several different CD versions over the years, the companion album, Into the Hot – which is just as interesting and also includes sessions by the Cecil Taylor Septet is currently out of print. Why?

 7. Yusef Lateef: 1984

Several of this multi-instrumentalist and composer's Impulse! albums remain unissued, including one of his most interesting efforts, 1984. And yes, I realize you can download this and some other out-of-print Impulse! albums at the Verve Music Group website…but frankly some of us jazzheads don't know an iPod from an 8-track, and for about ten bucks I think I'd rather have a professionally produced CD with liner notes and cover art; wouldn't you?

 8. Sun Ra: Astro Black

The undisputed interstellar giant of avant-garde big band jazz has enjoyed a steady stream of reissues over the years, especially thanks to the Evidence label, who have unearthed and reissued rare and unreleased material from several of Sun Ra's Impulse! albums. But only Sun Ra's Space Is The Place has actually been reissued on Impulse!, and Astro Black from 1972 is still stagnating somewhere in the vaults.

  9. Pharoah Sanders: Village of the Pharoahs
10. Pharoah Sanders: Wisdom Through Music

For a while there, it seemed like the entire Pharoah Sanders Impulse! back catalog was going to be reissued, and with good reason. Unfortunately, however, Village of the Pharoahs, Live at the East, and Wisdom Through Music remain stubbornly unavailable on CD.

11. Archie Shepp: Three for a Quarter, One for a Dime

Shepp's numerous Impulse! albums have been re-released on CD in dribs and drabs over the years, yet many regrettably remain unissued, including this fine 1966 session.

12. Michael White: Pneuma

Michael White's great album The Land of Spirit and Light was finally reissued on CD last year, but the rest of this innovative violinist and composer's Impulse! catalog is still curiously M.I.A.

Of course, this little personal "wish list" of a dozen albums represents only a tiny fraction of all the unreleased material in the immense Impulse! Records discography.

Come on, Universal — let's hear the full "Impulse! story" instead of just the so-called "best of" all over again!

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  • Right the FUCK on Steve! If I may say so.

    I have a desperate wishlist for the Impulse! back catalog, albeit a short one: the two Ornette Coleman albums, Ornette at 12 and Crisis, perhaps with the “Man on the Moon”/”Growing Up” single as bonus tracks on one or the other of them. Here’s THE titan of the era, a man whose importance to the avant-garde movement eclipses (in my opinion) even Trane’s; when you have material by someone like that, you don’t let it collect dust in some vault!

  • BTW: I’m now off to bootleg the titles you listed here. 🙂

  • Yeah, there’s no excuse for keeping unissued Ornette albums in the vault…

  • i’ve been saying that for years!

    sometimes though, Ornette is his own worst enemy.

  • Only because he understands his worth more than the industry does…

  • i suppose. though if stuff just stays on the shelf for decades, its “worth” doesn’t really matter.

  • zingzing

    this is getting very philosophical. does the shelved album sing? if so, to whom?

    are those bells?

    is it dinner time?

    do i remove the cat from my seat, or sit on the cat, as the cat is there and not there all-together?

    what is the color of the cat’s hair? is it all or nothing?

    does the very existance of the nothing prove that the nothing does not exist? or does its existance prove that nothing exists?

    where are you taking me?


  • Mark – True, but I was speaking more of Coleman’s worth, himself. Many of his obstacles come about specifically because he has a thing about demanding lots of money for his product, service, or releasing rights. He thinks he’s worth what he asks–as do I–but the music industry does not. Seeing as how jazz ain’t exactly a profitable venture, one can understand why they balk at paying him big fees.


    I would respond to you if I knew what the Hell you were talking about. Or if I thought YOU knew what the Hell you were talking about.

  • you’re right michael, if what i’ve read is true, Ornette has a pretty long history of butting heads with promoters.

    i feel lucky to have seen him once (around the time of Tone Dialing).

  • zingzing

    why capitalize “Hell?” is it like “Albuquerque?”

    to answer your unasked question, no, i do not know what i am talking about. which was, maybe, a bit of my point. up until your clarification for mark, i had no idea what the “Hell” you two were talking about. arrogant jazzheads. kisses.

  • arrogant jazzheads?


    i’d have more to say but i’m too busy ironing down the elbow patches on my corduroy jacket. after that i must refill my pipe with borkum riff.

  • Please don’t make me respond to the “arrogant jazzheads” comment. It’d take too much time away from my work of transcribing the flatted fifths in the third movement of Mingus’ The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady.

    Mark, I’m jealous beyond all belief. I wanted to go see him in New Jersey last year, but unfortunately it was on Thanksgiving night….

  • godoggo

    I think Cecil’s half of that Evans album is available on something called Mixed. Wonderful swinging, Mingusy stuff, probably my favorite Cecil.

  • In case anyone’s interested, I wrote a response to this article here.

  • Jack L

    The first in Marion Brown’s Georgia Trilogy was “Afternoon of a Georgia Faun”, on ECM, followed by the two mentioned above. “Three for a Quarter, One for a Dime” was released on CD, as part of “Live in San Francisco”. Both LPs were from the same gig, and the CD combined them.

  • godoggo
  • 1. godoggo — thanks, didn’t realize they added the Cecil Taylor “Into the Hot” sessions onto the “Mixed” CD (with Roswell Rudd stuff). Do not have that CD — but fortunately did get a copy of “Into the Hot” on CD before it went out of print.

    2. Jack L — I stand corrected on Marion Brown’s Georgia triology… I was thinking “November Cotton Flower” (also out of print) was part 3 — unless it’s like the “Mole Trilogy” by The Residents. Unfortunately, Shepp’s “Live in San Fran” is also no longer in print on CD as far as I can tell, but Amazon has a few used copies through other sellers.

    3. M. J. West — great list… and always nice to remind us of what fortunately IS currently available on Impulse! other than lame compilation CDs.

    Thanks for reading.