review

Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album: CD

This review was published on: December 1st 2018
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On 7 June 2018 the New York Times announced it, and on 22 June the (UK) Times did the same. They both carried illustrated leading articles in their arts sections publicising the release of this CD on 29 June. It’s not every day that a jazz tenor/soprano saxophonist like John Coltrane – who died in 1967, recorded this album in 1963 and had it released 55 years later – makes headlines in the international quality press. What is going on? Well, in three words: a musical metamorphosis.

Coltrane was not at all artistically inconspicuous in the four years before this ‘lost album’ was originally captured to tape in Rudy Van Gelder’s New Jersey studio. He had already blazed the trail of post-bop jazz into ‘modal jazz’ (with Miles Davis) garnering a host of fans in the process (eg Kind of Blue). So on 6 March 1963, in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, along with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones, post-bop and ‘free’ jazz began to co-exist, although the term ‘free’ was not assigned at the time.

Later albums from Coltrane contain much more of this new approach to improvisation, but the ‘lost album’ documents his very first excursions into the avant-garde. Some might call this a tentative exploration into the future, bolstered by tracks that stick with a commercially successful jazz style. Firstly, we are treated to both soprano and tenor solos. Secondly, all three of the accompanying musicians are absolutely at the top of their game. Thirdly, we have (as the Times’s John Bungey puts it) a mixture of blues, be-bop and ballads. And fourthly, the recording fidelity is excellent.

Seven tracks deliver 47 minutes of interesting and well played jazz (buyers of a deluxe edition can get an additional disc with seven alternative takes – three of which are devoted to a Coltrane-signature ‘innovative’ track, ‘Impressions’). Track 1 is an untitled 12-bar in a minor key with Coltrane on soprano in typical postbop style. ‘Nature Boy’ follows on tenor with McCoy resting and a strong hint of future developments. The third track, also untitled, has Coltrane back on soprano with even more hints of the avant-garde and a tremendous solo from Tyner. In the vein of My Favorite Things Coltrane next plays ‘Vilia’ on tenor – very tasteful. ‘Impressions’, based on the ‘So What’ chord sequence, demonstrates Coltrane, on tenor, edging toward the avant-garde again. ‘Slow Blues’, the longest track, provides a lesson on how to squeeze more out of the most hackneyed sequence in the whole of jazz, with fine performances from everyone. The group closes out with ‘One Up, One Down’ with Coltrane on tenor – a brisk own composition with a generous helping of his improvisation, again leaning toward the avant-garde. Nothing to frighten the horses and everything to confirm John Coltrane as a true jazz pioneer.

Kenneth Morris

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The Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No. 3010228, whose registered office is at 48 Henniker Point, Leytonstone Road, London, E15 1LQ. Email: finance (@) cassgb.org. Tel: 0845 644 0187

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