Friday, August 3, 2018

Lost 'Trane - "Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album" - A Critical Review

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

I’ve always has mixed feeling about bootlegs; broadly speaking, a term that I use to mean “unauthorized.”

The upside is that they provide more music by a favorite artist, the downside, well, where do I begin: generally very poor audio quality; the work of the artist/s being used without their permission and/or approval; no remuneration for the artist/s or their estate; contract violations if the artist was exclusive represented by a recording company during the period of the bootleg in question; et al.

Which is why it’s cause to celebrate when some recorded music by a favorite artist that is long forgotten and/or newly discovered does manifest itself and meets all the right criteria for artistic quality and legal compliance.

Specifically, I am referring to what the media guides have hailed as “The Lost studio album from John Coltrane" that was released by Impulse! on June 29, 2018 entitled. - Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album [B-0028228-02] that features original, never-before-heard compositions, recorded by Coltrane's Classic Quartet in 1963 at Van Gelder Studios

So the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it would be fun to commemorate the occasion by cobbling together and presenting a number of different perspectives on this truly brilliant recording beginning with the following press release that Amanda Bloom at Crossover Media kindly sent along.

In reverse chronological order, this is followed by an article by J.D. Considine which appeared in the August 2018 edition of Downbeat, a review by Amanda Petrusich in the July 19, 2018 of The New Yorker and Richard Brody’s review from the June 28, 2018 edition of The New Yorker.

Following these opinions of the music on these recordings, I’ve posted an approved video of the “Slow Blues” track from Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album as a sample of what’s on offer in the recording.

Crossover Media

“On March 6, 1963, John Coltrane and his Classic Quartet - McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones - recorded an entire studio album at the legendary Van Gelder Studios. This music, which features unheard originals, will finally be released 55 years later. This is, in short, the holy grail of jazz.

Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album will be released on June 29 on Impulse! Records, Coltrane's final and most creative label home.

The first week of March in 1963 was busy for John Coltrane. He was in the midst of a two-week run at Birdland and was gearing up to record the famed John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman album, which he did on March 7. But there was a session the day before that was the stuff of legend, until now.

On Wednesday, March 6, Coltrane and the quartet went to Van Gelder Studios in Englewood, NJ and cut a complete album's worth of material, including several original compositions that were never recorded elsewhere.  They spent the day committing these to tape, taking time with some, rehearsing them two, three times, playing them in different ways and in different configurations.

At the end of the day, Coltrane left Van Gelder Studios with a reference tape and brought it to the home in Queens that he shared with his wife, Naima. These tapes remained untouched for the next 54 years until Impulse! approached the family about finally releasing this lost album. Though the master tape was never found-Rudy Van Gelder wasn't one for clutter-the reference tape was discovered to be in excellent condition.

As the legendary saxophonist Sonny Rollins so rightly put it, "This is like finding a new room in the Great Pyramid." The musical implications of this album, the original compositions, the arrangements, the band, the year it was recorded, all amount to a rediscovery and re-contextualization of one of the most important musicians of our time.

Danny Bennett, President and CEO of the Verve Label Group and home of Impulse! records, says, "Jazz is more relevant today than ever. It's becoming the alternative music of the 21st century, and no one embodies the boundary-breaking essence of jazz more than John Coltrane. He was a visionary who changed the course of music, and this lost album is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery. It gives us insight into his creative process and connects us to his artistry. This album is a cultural moment and the release coincides perfectly with our relaunch of the iconic Impulse! label."

On this album, there are two completely unknown and never-before-heard originals. "Untitled Original 11383" and "Untitled Original 11386," both played on soprano sax. "11383" features an arco bass solo by Jimmy Garrison, a relative rarity, and "11386" marks a significant structural change for the quartet, in that they keep returning to the theme between solos, not typical in the quartet’s repertoire.

In addition to the two unheard originals, "One Up, One Down" - released previously only on a bootleg recording from Birdland - is heard here as a studio recording for the first and only time. It contains a fascinating exchange between Elvin Jones and Coltrane.

"Impressions," one of Coltrane's most famous and oft-recorded compositions, is played here in a pianoless trio. In fact, McCoy Tyner lays out a number of times during this recording session. It's one of the more interesting aspects of this session and reflects the harmonic possibilities that Coltrane was known to be discussing regularly with Ornette Coleman around this time.

This studio session also yielded Coltrane's first recording of "Nature Boy," which he would record again in 1965, and the two versions differ greatly. The one we know is exploratory, meandering. This version is tight, solo-less and clocking in at just over three minutes. The other non-original composition on the album is "Vilia," from Franz Lehár's operetta "The Merry Widow."

The soprano version on the Deluxe Edition is the only track from this session to have been previously released.

This incredible, once-in-a-lifetime discovery reveals a number of creative balances at work, like developing original melodies while rethinking familiar standards. Trying out some tunes first on tenor saxophone, then on soprano. Using older techniques like the arpeggio runs of his "sheets of sound" while experimenting with false fingerings and other newer sounds. This session was pivotal, though to call it such overlooks the fact Coltrane was ever on pivot, always pushing the pedal down while still calling on older, tested ideas and devices.

Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album is a major addition to the Coltrane catalogue and the most important jazz discovery in recent memory.

This historic session resulted in 14 tracks in total. On the standard edition, there are 7 takes, chosen by Ravi Coltrane. The rest of the takes exist on the second disc of the deluxe set. There will be a standard CD and LP and a deluxe CD and LP available on June 29 on Impulse! The deluxe edition will exist on all digital streaming platforms as well.

Coltrane's 'Lost' Studio Album Found by J.D. Considine, Downbeat, August 2018.


It's like discovering buried treasure."

That's how Ravi Coltrane, the late jazz icon's saxophone-playing son, feels about the release of Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album (Impulse!). This isn't an air-check, concert performance or collection of outtakes from existing albums. What we have here are 14 studio performances, all recorded on the same day-March 6, 1963 — by famed recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder at his Englewood Cliffs,

New Jersey, studio, with the classic lineup of Coltrane on tenor and soprano, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums.
Even better, the song selection offers fresh insight into the way that quartet developed and grew. For instance, there's an early, piano-less take on "Nature Boy" that's quite different in character and approach than the version, recorded almost two years later, that would end up on The John Coltrane Quartet Plays.

There are four takes of "Impressions," each of which is strikingly unique in terms of tempo and approach, with Tyner sitting out on the last two. There are three untitled originals, and not only does the set offer "One Up One Down" as a studio recording, it gives us two takes of it.

Basically, this is a Coltrane fan's fantasy come true.

Both Directions At Once will be released in two versions. One will be a seven-track single disc, with one take each of the tunes Coltrane and company cut that day. (Ravi Coltrane and Universal Music's Ken Druker chose the takes and set the order.) There will also be a deluxe edition with a second disc that includes seven alternate takes.

Of course, given how deeply the body of Coltrane recordings has been mined over the last five or six decades, it's worth wondering how an entire album's worth got made and then somehow lost.

The recording session has been noted in several discographies (although incompletely). One of the 14 tracks—a lithe, swinging soprano saxophone rendition of a tune from Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow—turned up as "Vilia" on the 1965 Impulse! anthology The Definitive Jazz Scene, Vol. 3.

Judging from the liner notes (by Ravi Coltrane and Impulse! Records scholar Ashley Khan), these recordings fell between the cracks for three reasons.
First, Coltrane and company were back at Van Gelder's studio the very next day to record what would become the classic album with singer Johnny Hartman. This was a much more mainstream project and would likely have been seen by the label as a better way to broaden Coltrane's appeal than releasing another instrumental quartet album.

Second, Coltrane's producer at Impulse!, Bob Thiele (1922-1996), was in the habit of recording the saxophonist far more frequently than his label bosses would have liked. "I was always over budget with Coltrane," Thiele said in a 1995 interview quoted in the liner notes. "I was finally told, 'You can't just keep recording this guy. We'll never get these albums out.' Thank God, I did it."

Indeed, if Thiele hadn't followed his instincts, many of the great Coltrane albums that were released after the saxophonist's death in 1967 — for instance, Sun Ship, First Meditations (For Quartet) and Interstellar Space — would never have existed.

But the third reason the tracks on Both Directions At Once almost disappeared was corporate stinginess and short sightedness. After Impulse! moved its operations to the West Coast in 1967, the label's collection of master recordings was put into storage. By the early '70s, ABC's fortunes began to wane, and label executives began to institute cost-cutting "efficiencies," which included disposing of any stored master tapes for recordings that had never been issued. So the masters from these sessions probably were dumped in the garbage.

Luckily, Van Gelder also made session tapes — 7-inch mono reels recorded simultaneously with the master tapes — which he gave to the artists. Ravi, whose mother was Alice Coltrane, explained that the source for Both Directions was a tape that had been held by the relatives of Juanita Naima Coltrane (John's first wife).

"You'd finish a record date at Rudy Van Gelder's, and he would hand you reel-to-reel tapes for you to review," Ravi said. "The tapes were in the possession of my father's first wife's family. We have many session reels ourselves that made it to John and Alice's home when they got together. But this is a recording from '63, so my father was still with Naima at the time, and her family held on to several of these tapes."

As to why the album wasn't released before his father's death, Ravi said that the session may have been intentionally exploratory.

"The session was recorded the very same week as the Johnny Hartman session, and the band [was about to conclude] a two-week run at Birdland. For me it did feel like, 'OK, well, we're doing a few sessions this week. One of them will maybe get the band warmed up, so why don't we lay down some of the things we have been performing at Birdland all week?' It does feel very much like a live set recorded in a studio."

Part of that may be the amount of space these tracks give Garrison and Jones. For instance, the album-opening "Untitled Original 11383-Take 1" features a rare, driving arco solo by Garrison, while "Nature Boy" relies heavily on the way Jones' shuffling poly-rhythms contrast against Garrison's repeated use of a syncopated anchor based on two dotted quarter notes followed by a quarter note. The two takes of "One Up One Down" both notably feature a shout chorus with Jones.

"You do get to hear the role of the rhythm section a little bit differently," Ravi said. "There's lots of drum solos. There's lots of bass solos. Again, it does take on the character of a live performance."
On a more conventional session, such as the one with Hartman, there would be less space for the rhythm section to stretch out or show off.

"On those record dates, the arrangements were very, very tight, and if there were any solos at all, it was going to be a saxophone solo and a piano solo," he added. "But on this record, you get a chance to hear the rhythm section really, really interact. Lots of great moments between Elvin and Jimmy Garrison, for sure."

Above all, Both Directions At Once provides a snapshot of a great band on the cusp of revolution.

"There are elements of the performance that do hark back to John Coltrane's early days as a blues player and a bebop player," Ravi said, pointing to "Vilia" and the 11-minute "Slow Blues." But there is also material like "One Up One Down," which, he says, "is leaning toward the music that John and the quartet eventually get to, in 1964 and '65, playing more of these open structures. So it's kind of a rare glimpse, to see John with one foot in the past, and one foot in the future."                         — J.D. Considine

Amanda Petrusich is a staff writer at The New Yorker July 19, 2018

“In March 6, 1963, the saxophonist John Coltrane, the bassist Jimmy Garrison, the drummer Elvin Jones, and the pianist McCoy Tyner — the same crew responsible for some of the world’s most plainly transcendent jazz records — gathered at the Van Gelder Studio, in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Coltrane was thirty-six years old, under contract with the young imprint Impulse!, and in the midst of an electric run of shows at Birdland, a club on West Fifty-second Street. He lived with his wife, Naima, and her six-year-old daughter in a small brick house in St. Albans, Queens, but it’s difficult to explain precisely where he existed back then, in the spiritual sense — the signal he was channeling. In the liner notes to “Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album,” the historian Ashley Kahn describes the quartet’s work from this era as “injecting the ecstatic message of the black church into the polite world of jazz: Sunday morning on a Saturday night.” That precise tension — rhapsodic devotion versus a kind of measured elegance — is present, in one form or another, in nearly every great work of American art. In the spring of 1963, Coltrane was fully seized by it.

When the studio engineer Rudy Van Gelder gave Coltrane a mono tape of the music the quartet had recorded that day, Coltrane handed it off to Naima. (Did he relisten to the tape himself? No one can say for sure.) Impulse! eventually relocated to Los Angeles, and the master tapes of the session were placed in a storage facility. Then, in the nineteen-seventies, in an effort to cut down on fees, they were unceremoniously tossed, along with every other unissued tape in the label’s archive. Coltrane himself didn’t make it out of the sixties; he died, in 1967, of liver cancer. He and Naima split up a few months after the session at Van Gelder; she died in 1996, of a heart attack. The new songs were never slated for release in 1963, for reasons that remain somewhat mysterious — maybe Coltrane didn’t think of them as a record. Maybe he wanted to wait.

This past June, fifty-five years later, the session was released commercially — Naima’s family had found the tape, and finally decided to put it out. (Her estate worked closely with Coltrane’s son Ravi, who co-produced the record with Ken Druker.) The title, “Both Directions at Once,” could, of course, allude to any number of things — the sacred versus profane binary that Kahn nods to in his notes, the challenge of trying to recreate the experience of a live performance while pent up in a recording studio, the bridging of jazz’s traditional past with a more delirious and experimental future. The official word is that it comes from something Coltrane once said to the saxophonist Wayne Shorter, “about starting a sentence in the middle, and then going to the beginning and the end of it at the same time . . . both directions at once.” Kahn suggests that language was always the “go-to metaphor” for the great improvisers of Coltrane’s generation — it was the way they spoke about and analyzed their work. (Shorter has also said that he and Coltrane would occasionally slam out clusters of notes on the piano, and Coltrane would say, “See if you can find a story in there!”)

What a beautiful and freeing idea—to “begin anywhere,” as the composer John Cage once said, and explode your way out. “Both Directions at Once,” which features seven tracks on the single-disk edition, and fourteen on the deluxe edition, was hungrily received by Coltrane’s devoted public. Sonny Rollins described it as “like finding a new room in the Great Pyramid.” I first heard about the release on Twitter, when the wonderful jazz writer Nate Chinen posted a link to a Times story. It was an otherwise unremarkable Thursday afternoon, made miraculous. A lost album! By John Coltrane! All summer, the headlines had been getting people down. Life felt ugly and difficult: children were being held in cages, young and beloved figures were committing suicide, and so on. New music from a true American visionary — who was, by all accounts, also a gentle, elegant, and searching man — gave us a sudden flash of hope. Something pure in a rotten world! When my LP arrived in the mail, I unfolded the liner notes, spread them out on my apartment floor, lit a candle, and took a breath before dropping the needle. It felt like a kind of séance.

“Both Directions at Once” is subtitled “The Lost Album,” which is maybe a bit of a fiction. (It’s unclear whether it was ever an “album,” exactly, or just how lost it was.) The classification itself is intoxicating, though: lost albums, particularly from singular artists, suggest that profound beauty might be lurking in the back of every overstuffed coat closet in America. I can’t think of an idea more instantly engrossing than “You’ve just got to find it.” For decades, classic-rock fans have been hyperventilating over lost records by artists like Neil Young (in 1975, as his marriage to the actress Carrie Snodgress began to deteriorate, Young recorded a batch of heartbroken, confessional songs for an album to be called “Homegrown,” then later scrapped it all because it was gloomy and “too personal”) and Jimi Hendrix (in 1970, he recorded a sixteen-song suite on an acoustic guitar — he called it “Black Gold” — and handed the tapes off to the drummer Mitch Mitchell, who then forgot about them for several decades), among others. The Beach Boys’s original “SMiLE,” the electric version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska,” the entire contents of Prince’s vault at Paisley Park — what can they offer us?

As my colleague Richard Brody suggests in his excellent review of the new Coltrane release, studio recordings can sometimes defang great jazz: “The new release of ‘Both Directions at Once’ has both the odd virtue and the essential disadvantage of domesticating, in the literal sense, these musical ecstasies,” he writes. But holding the record is nonetheless a thrill. It’s easy to see why lost albums can feel like potentially sacred totems—the proverbial missing puzzle piece in our scramble to feel whole. It’s also tempting, in tumultuous times, to look backward for clues left behind by our predecessors, for anything that might help us charge into an uncertain future. “Both Directions at Once” contains two previously unheard original compositions (“Untitled Original 11383” and “Untitled Original 11386”). I’ve been listening to both tracks more or less constantly since I acquired the record; I’m still trying to comprehend and unpack their lessons. It is preposterous to think of these songs as transmissions from another plane—Coltrane, after all, was just a regular, flesh-and-blood dude when he made them—but this summer, especially, I am grateful for their weird magic. Coltrane appreciated the ballads of the past as much as the free jazz of the future; he was simultaneously reverential and questing. But he also liked making up his own way of doing things. His best songs contain elements of all three approaches. The chord substitutions that he made while improvising later came to be known as “Coltrane changes.” They suggest, like the arrival of this album, that there are still very good surprises to be had, if we keep our hearts open.

“Both Directions at Once,” Reviewed: The Thrills — and Limits — of a Rediscovered John Coltrane Recording"By Richard Brody June 28, 2018 The New Yorker

“It’s big news that a previously unknown recording by John Coltrane, one that was believed to have been lost, has been found and is being issued on Friday, by Impulse! Records. That recording, “Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album,” recorded on March 6, 1963, features Coltrane’s classic quartet — McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums — on seven tracks that include five Coltrane originals (including one of his most fruitfully popular compositions, “Impressions”) and two standards (“Nature Boy” and “Vilia”). (The deluxe edition’s second disk features seven alternate takes.) Almost anything by Coltrane is an essential experience. The more significant matter is where these recordings stand in Coltrane’s œuvre, and how their availability illuminates his art and the trajectory of his too-brief career. (He died, at the age of forty, in 1967.)

At the time of this recording, Coltrane hadn’t been in the studio with the quartet since November, 1962 (to record “Ballads,” an unusual, placid album of moderate-tempo standards), and hadn’t recorded an unconstrained studio album since June of that year, when he released “Coltrane.” Coltrane, or, rather, Impulse!, had a problem: his latest batch of recordings, such as “ ‘Live’ at the Village Vanguard” and “Coltrane,” had been receiving cruelly damning reviews from critics — white critics — who couldn’t cope with their power or originality, and his producer, Bob Thiele, asked him to make a series of recordings that would reach wider audiences and mollify critics by affirming traditions. The result was a series of three albums (“Ballads,” “Duke Ellington & John Coltrane,” and “John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman”—the latter was recorded on March 7, 1963, the day after this new release was recorded), and they’re beautiful — Coltrane was incapable of making something ugly — but remote from what Coltrane had been doing in clubs and concert halls with his quartet. They’re a sidebar to his legacy.

The band had been performing frequently. Many of the shows from their European tour of late 1962 were recorded, and, though they were officially released decades later, bootlegs of American performances from 1962 and early 1963 have long circulated, offering a clear sense of what Coltrane’s quartet was up to at the time — and it’s both similar to, and crucially different from, the performances on “Both Directions at Once.”

This March 6th recording is something of a stocktaking. Coltrane revisits “Impressions,” which he had recorded in concert in 1961 and in the studio in 1962, though neither recording had been released yet. (There’s also a television performance of “Impressions” from 1963 that’s far more impassioned than the ones on the new studio album.) Coltrane plays “One Up, One Down,” a short and brusque tune that he’d played at a New York club several days earlier; a bootleg reveals that his ecstatic performance drives the audience into ecstatic hollers to match. Coltrane’s soprano-sax solo on “Untitled Original 11386” reaches memorable heights of exaltation. The longest piece, “Slow Blues,” plays a role similar to that of “Out of This World,” from “Coltrane” — he solos twice, once at the beginning and once at the end. That piece, with its abrupt cascades and keening high notes, is the highlight of “Both Directions at Once” — but it only rarely reaches the roiling fervor that Coltrane and the band summoned on “Out of This World.”

Listening to Coltrane, particularly in his prime, in the nineteen-sixties, is among the best musical experiences that exist, but not every recording is a similarly overwhelming creation. Not every album offers the same thrill of continued discovery, not every performance reflects the same depth of imagination. It’s true for many artists but especially true for Coltrane, who is one of the great religious artists, and also one of the great political artists, of his time. The spiritual power of his music is a crucial reflection of, and a part of, the struggle for civil rights; his composition and performance of “Alabama,” from November, 1963 — composed to fit the cadences of a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. — is only the most explicit of his political works. His spiritual quest both embodies and conveys a sense of awe in the presence of the holy and a terror in the musical effort to approach it. The Greek word “pneuma” means both “breath” and “spirit,” and it’s altogether apt that the most sublime religious experience in jazz — and also the art’s great documentary testimony of personal struggle — should be the work of a saxophonist, and one whose solos often ran to a half hour or more, as if the trials of the breath and of the soul were inseparable.

That’s what’s missing from “Both Directions at Once.” Its performances reflect Coltrane’s profound musical ideas — his intricate motivic distillations and harmonic expansions — and his majestic sound (plus the clarity of hearing him in this recording — made by the legendary engineer Rudy Van Gelder at his studio — is one of the album’s prime joys). Yet little on this album matches the music that Coltrane was making at the time in concert; the passion of his playing here doesn’t reach the point where he risks losing control.

“Both Directions at Once” attests, above all, to the peculiarities of records — of the home consumption of music. The long-playing record may have liberated music from the constraints of the three-minute or five-minute sides of 78-r.p.m. records, but, with each of its sides running well over twenty minutes, it had a paradoxical effect of turning music ambient — of turning, more or less, any record into background music for home use. There are varieties of musical fury that are both miraculous and absurd to have at home, and Coltrane’s concert performances are among them. The new release of “Both Directions at Once” has both the odd virtue and the essential disadvantage of domesticating, in the literal sense, these musical ecstasies.

Whatever reticence a listener might experience with the new album isn’t musicological but emotional: the spiritual temperature of the music is lower, its moments of glorious invention have a logical and inviting air that never quite matches the self-exploring, self-transcending volatility of Coltrane’s very best recordings, whether made in concert or in the studio. (It’s impossible to know whether the quartet just didn’t reach its heights of inspiration that day, or whether, under the influence of Thiele and related commercial considerations, they deliberately restrained their most extreme energies.) “Both Directions at Once” is a marker of Coltrane’s work at the time rather than the very best of it. It’s as if the band were displaying what it is that they do when they do it, without quite doing it.

It’s wonderful that Impulse! is delving into its collection of unissued recordings by Coltrane; according to the Coltrane biographer Ben Ratliff, Verve (Impulse!’s parent company) has eighty-six CDs worth of Coltrane’s concert recordings, so, at this pace, they’ll be able to release one every year for the rest of the century and beyond. Impulse! has, in recent years, been doing heroic work in digging into the vaults; their release of Coltrane’s 1963 Newport recordings, a live recording of “A Love Supreme,” 1965 performances from a New York club, and 1966 performances from Temple University, are all mighty additions to the Coltrane canon. “Both Directions at Once” is different; it’s moving and illuminating, as it fills in some of the background and middle range of Coltrane’s career, but it doesn’t hold a place in the foreground of his career or his discography. The very fact of its rediscovery and release is wondrous, and I wouldn’t want to be without it. For those who listen to much Coltrane, it’s a significant and valuable supplement. For those who don’t, I suspect that it’s likelier to inspire admiration rather than excitement, interest rather than love.”

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