By now if you haven’t heard about the release of a new, previously unreleased batch of lost recordings by legendary jazz musician John Coltrane, you’ve probably been living under something of a musical rock when it comes to jazz (no offense, but this is pretty big news in jazz circles). In short, the performances on this fine new archival release comes from a safety master tape given to Coltrane back in the day (and thankfully preserved and recently rediscovered by the powers that be involved with his estate). This recording is especially appealing for fans of the arguable “peak period” for this influential saxophonist, composer, arranger, bandleader and visionary.
Recorded in one 1963 afternoon session by equally legendary engineer / producer Rudy Van Gelder, the music on Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album features what many regard as Coltrane’s “classic” quartet” including McCoy Tyner on Piano, Jimmy Garrison on Bass and Elvin Jones on Drums. Made during the same prolific year in which he released four albums (Duke Ellington & John Coltrane, Ballads, John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman and Impressions), the back story behind why this music got lost in the first place is something of a mystery (detailed in the liner notes) but it stands to reason that the volume of other releases issued that year, many leaning to more commercial territory in terms of popular appeal, may have contributed to it’s shelving.
Fortunately, these 1/4-inch analog master safety tapes were saved and they are a joy, presenting this well oiled group flying high and alive without a net, essentially warming up before they headed into New York for a concert performance. The quality of these recordings is very high, mastered by Kevin Reeves at Universal Music Mastering.
Generally the standard weight vinyl used on the Deluxe Edition vinyl two-LP set sounds fine — I say generally because mine has some minor (but still audible) surface noise issues. While the discs are well centered, it would have been nice if the label had gone that step further and put this out on at least 180-gram vinyl; admittedly, while heavy weight vinyl is no guarantee for quieter presentation of the music, depending on the production plant used, the chances are good that it might have mitigated some of the noise issues my copy of the album seemed to be having. Other than that, the music on Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album sounds pretty rich overall and the performances exemplary.
For those of you who enjoy streaming, the album is up on Tidal already and if you have the appropriate DAC with MQA converters, you can hear this music in 192 kHz, 24-bit fidelity and it generally sounds real good. Perhaps my only complaint on that front is that the cymbals sound a bit… well… swishy (if you will) in comparison to the cleaner-sounding and more naturally decaying strikes I am hearing on the LP version. I also notice a bit more depth to the instruments in general on the vinyl. This difference in sonic perspective could be due to any number of variables, not the least being (suspected on my part) bandwidth limiting by my ISP. This issue is not a big deal for casual listening at work on computer-grade speakers but for those of you looking for the best possible experience you might want to consider your options.
As far as the more complete listening experience goes, that also depends on your perspective. Personally I find the lovely die-cut gatefold album cover quite nicely done and complementary to the music — apparently as we learn in the liner notes it one of the titles Coltrane was perhaps considering for this music included the word “triangles”). Speaking of liner notes, they are extensive and — while curiously presented as one side of a large fold out poster — they are compelling including comments from the great and influential saxophonist Wayne Shorter. The vinyl and CD versions feature period-accurate orange Impulse records labels and the designers even included the trademark orange / black spine design, so your new LP will fits in perfectly in your collection alongside original albums in Coltrane’s catalog.
My favorite tunes thus far include the sort of latin flavored “Untitled Original 11386” and the lovely rendition of “Nature Boy.” “One Up, One Down” is pretty smokin’ too!
You can find Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album at Amazon both on single vinyl or as a two LP deluxe edition (containing all the known outtakes). And as I’ve mentioned the whole album is streaming on Tidal if you have a subscription to the service.
Anyway to get it, Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album is an exciting discovery and essential listen for Coltrane fans. I know that I’ll be keeping this in my “play” bin for quite some time, I can tell already.