It's somewhat of a holy grail of jazz, this. Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album is just that, an until-very-recently unknown and unheard studio album by the great John Coltrane. The sessions for the LP were laid down at the legendary Van Gelder Studios, with 'Trane at the peak of his powers and his classic Quartet in tow. So, here we have a document from one of the most important and influential groups in the history of music-kind having scaled the pinnacles and subsequently veering in exploratory tangents the world couldn't have anticipated. LP, Double Deluxe Edition LP with CD and 2-CD deluxe editions available, on Impulse!
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Now this is very exciting isn’t it. Something about the idea of a lost album makes it feel so remarkable. Leaving aside the fact that any John Coltrane release is already remarkable on its own terms, that we might never have heard this gives it an aura that is utterly thrilling. For the uninitiated, Both Directions at Once is a an album Coltrane recorded in 1963 with his classic quartet, being Kimmy Garrison on double bass, Elvin Jones on the drums, and McCoy Tyner on piano. At some point the master tape was destroyed by Impulse! Records to save space, but luckily for us John Coltrane gave a spare copy of the album to his wife, whose family, in an act of unbelievably generosity and forgiveness, gave Impulse! another shot.
The album then is one of contrasts. We get to here Coltrane at his most abstract and free on the snappily titled ‘Untitled Original 11386’ versus the beautiful melodic ‘Villa’. We get to hear the quartet cruising along slowly and thoughtfully on the aptly named ‘Slow Blues’, only for them to burst out the stocks on ‘One Up, One Down’. There’s a reason this part of Coltrane’s career is considered so highly, his band more than capable of taking whatever he throws at them, while always communicating their own personalities.
It is difficult to get over the album’s story, and it has clearly coloured this review of it. But I don’t think that’s a problem. Though this wasn’t how ‘Both Directions’ was intended to see the light of day, it’s how it happened. But yes, it is an absolute success on its own terms.
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