Friday, June 29, 2018

John Coltrane - Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (Impulse, 2018)

The surprise release of a hitherto unknown session by the heroic saxophonist and composer John Coltrane and his "classic quartet" of McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones is a cause for celebration and provides a fascinating glimpse into his working methods and techniques used in the studio. Recorded in March of 1963, this album shows the quartet playing a wide range of original material, some of which is so fresh that some of the tracks don't have names, just index numbers, assigned on the fly by the engineer. There are no less than four takes of the famous original "Impressions," all of which are quite short in the three to four minute range as they look for the perfect way to nail down the theme. Dark and husky tenor saxophone looks forward to the Crescent LP on standard "Nature Boy" is with a brief performance, one that would come into full bloom a few years later with a scalding performance anchoring the John Coltrane Quartet Plays LP. "Untitled Original 11383 (Take 1)" opens this collection and it is a bracing demonstration of the band's power. With a very impressive bowed bass solo anchoring the performance, Jones dances on cymbals and Coltrane's soprano saxophone pierces the air amidst Tyner's persistent comping. There is a multi-layered rhythmic balance to "Untitled Original 11386 (Take 1)" with powerfully swinging drums along with stoic bass and piano providing a firm foundation for a lengthy and exciting soprano saxophone solo. Jones in particular is a marvel, playing with supreme confidence and creating an ever changing dynamic that suits the piece perfectly. Tyner's solo is fleet fingered, dancing around the upper edge of the keyboard while rooting his feature in stabbing chords, before laying out for an insightful bass and drums duet. Coltrane moves to tenor saxophone for "Vilia (Take 3)" a brightly swinging romp that has a memorable and accessible melody, and the quartet performs with the grace of a high performance sports car. Tyner is well suited to this more traditional jazz and he leads the bass and drums in a sparkling section before Coltrane returns for a confident concluding statement. "Slow Blues" is the longest track on the album, an exploratory piece where Coltrane in tenor saxophone can cast out for ideas, using the familiar form of the blues as a foundation for his seeking. He plays with a steely presence, using a deep dark tone to unwrap his solo over basic bass and drums accompaniment. Tyner steps aside for much of the track, but takes a thoughtful probing solo of his own when the leader drops out, bumping up the tempo and adding a spring to his step. Coltrane keps the faster pace when he returns, blowing gales of tenor saxophone over some engaging accompaniment. Soon to be famous for it's live performances, there are two versions of "One Up, One Down" which have explosive quartet interplay right from the jump, with expansive piano chords, deft cymbal play and withering tenor saxophone. Jones is a force of nature, trading ideas with Coltrane and anchoring a sparkling Tyner solo. This album comes from reference tapes kept by the family of Coltrane's first wife, Naima, and the remastering quality is excellent allowing the music to be heard clearly and transparently. The music on this album is worthy of the hype surrounding it, as it is played with passion and dignity, providing another mile-marker in John Coltrane's relentless quest. This is a portrait of a man at work, and we are all richer for it's discovery. Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album - amazon.com

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