In 1963, John Coltrane was something rare in jazz—a commercial success and an innovator who was always pushing the artform to new and interesting places. What’s more, he was the leader of one of the greatest jazz bands of all time, known at the classic quartet, which produced landmark albums including Coltrane (1962), Crescent (1964), and his magnum opus, A Love Supreme (1965). Now, a new “lost” album from that period is being released, reports Giovanni Russonello at The New York Times.
The album is not just a collection of odds and ends and outtakes, either. It’s a fully formed album that belongs in the Coltrane discography next to his most popular works.
According to a press release, on March 6, 1963, Coltrane and his quartet, which included McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums, spent the day at Van Gelder Studios in Englewood, New Jersey, recording a mix of new compositions and covers. Coltrane brought home a copy of the tape, but an album based on the session was never produced for reasons unknown and the master tapes were likely disposed of by Van Gelder sometime in the 1970s. Thankfully, his first wife, Juanita Naima Coltrane, held onto the copy. Coltrane’s family recently discovered the surviving tape, bringing it to the attention of the recently revived Impulse! Records, Coltrane’s label during the classic quartet period.
The new material is being released later this month as an album called Both Directions at Once, and it will include seven tracks, two of which were completely unknown, unreleased pieces, “Untitled Original 11383” and “Untitled Original 11386,” that you can sneak a peak at on the album preview. The album also features a short melodic version of “Nature Boy,” which Coltrane later recorded as a rambling, experimental mind-blower in 1965. Excitingly, the only studio version of “Impressions,” the centerpiece of his live shows, and the track “One Up, One Down,” previously only released as a bootleg from a Coltrane concert at Birdland, also appear in Both Directions at Once.
The jazz critic John Fordham tells Ben Beaumont-Thomas at The Guardian that the album fills in some blank spots in Coltrane’s evolution as he shifted from commercially successful melody and standards to the deep, nuanced music he would be making by the time he cut A Love Supreme. “Coltrane was looking back at bebop – the virtuosity and melodic resources of which he had stretched to breaking point – and the song-based lyricism of jazz he had recently explored with Duke Ellington, and was about to with Johnny Hartman,” he says. “But he was also looking forward to imagining the more intense, mantra-like, spiritually-driven music”.
Coltrane’s son Ravi, a saxophonist and composer in his own right, who helped prepare the record, agrees that the music here captures a snapshot of a musician in transition. “In 1963, all these musicians are reaching some of the heights of their musical powers,” he tells Russonello. “On this record, you do get a sense of John with one foot in the past and one foot headed toward his future.”
In 1965, after recording A Love Supreme, Coltrane’s music became much more avant-garde and exploratory. Over the next two years, he would push the limits of music before dying from liver cancer at the age of 40 in 1967.
For his legions of fans, having new music from Coltrane’s most celebrated period is a windfall, period. “This is like finding a new room in the Great Pyramid,” as the saxophonist Sonny Rollins puts it in the press release.
Over the years, his music has never lost its popularity. In fact, it’s even spawned its own congregation, the Saint John Coltrane Church, which holds Coltrane masses and monthly meditations on A Love Supreme.