John Coltrane – Both Directions at Once, The Lost Album (2018)

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What if the Beatles had recorded an entire album consisting mostly of new material back in their heyday, and those recordings didn’t come to light until very recently and then, with little warning, their Capitol record label dropped it on the world some fifty-five years after it was recorded? The equivalent of that is happening now in the jazz world with the June 29, 2018 release from Impulse! Records of a previously unearthed set of studio recordings by John Coltrane and his highly influential and unsurpassed classic quartet.

Both Directions at Once, The Lost Album is accurately titled, an album that captures McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman, Elvin Jones and their visionary leader trying to strike a balance between accommodating the label’s desire for converting Coltrane’s talent stardom into commercial success and probing for paths that would eventually break him free from jazz’s mainstream (and by the end of his time on Earth, from jazz itself).

One day before recording his famous, March 7, 1963 encounter with singer Johnny Hartman, Coltrane convened his quartet at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio and left behind enough recorded material for an album that had somehow laid dormant for all these years. Amid a couple of covers and several new run-throughs of his modal workout “Impressions,” there are two completely new unheard-of originals and another original of which there was only a single bootleg of it previously known to exist.

Some of the most interesting aspects of this album is how it varies from the formula of its time: modalities are sometimes replaced by frequent visits to the theme, after each solo (“One Up One Down”). Further, Coltrane is heard at times leading a piano-less trio, something he probably hadn’t done in a studio since laying down the majority of the tracks for Lush Life in 1957. And like that session from six years earlier, he undertakes a simple standard blues, though his original “Slow Blues” isn’t “Trane’s Slo Blues.” Jones can be heard pushing hard against the song’s straightforward constraints and the leader had noticeably evolved from the ‘sheets of sound’ that dominated his approach years earlier as he focuses more on his interaction with the drummer. Tyner does enter the proceedings halfway through this eleven-and-half-minute performance and sometime after he takes over, Elvin finally gets the now piano-led trio to giddy up.

“Untitled Original 11383 (Take 1)” is a rare showcase of Garrison on arco bass, but this racing blues is also intriguing for how together the band sounded right from this first take; Trane and Tyner intuitively execute precise, effective solos. “Untitled Original 11386 (Take 1)” swings in that robust, Elvin Jones way, and with Coltrane wailing away on soprano sax and Tyner’s original chord voicings, it’s an archetypal John Coltrane Quartet tune…except that you’ve never heard it before. “One Up One Down,” that barely-known original, is peppered with explosive Jones solos that no one then or now can duplicate.

The three-minute, solo-less “Nature Boy” is a revelation, not so much for Garrison’s inventive circular bass line, but how much it demonstrates the rapid evolution the group took in the two years that followed. The better-known 1965 version is imbued with that deep Coltrane spirituality that was only beginning to emerge in 1963. “Vilia” is the other non-original from the album. A take featuring Coltrane on soprano appeared before, the only cut from this day’s recordings to have been previously released. But on tenor sax, Coltrane is in fine form, still full of melodious charm that would in a few short years be replaced with radical wails.

Coltrane’s famous “So What”-derived “Impressions” is played no less than four times, each time running between a tidy four and five minutes long. After the first two takes, Tyner is omitted and perhaps due in part of that different dynamic, the third take was deemed the best for the ‘proper’ album.

For the JC completists, the Deluxe version of Both Directions at Once puts all the seven recorded takes not selected by John Coltrane’s son Ravi for that proper album onto a second disc. The Deluxe version — like the standard version is available on CD, vinyl and digitally — also contains some casual but useful commentary and insights by the saxophonist son.

Better than demo quality, falling maybe just short of the typical Bob Thiele production standard, Both Directions at Once, The Lost Album is nonetheless as gratifying as many other John Coltrane albums from the Impulse! era; indeed, it holds its own against the entire, history-making discography. To understand the magnitude of this meaningful new addition to such an influential repertoire, Sonny Rollins may have put it best: “This is like finding a new room in the Great Pyramid.”


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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