Coltrane’s Lost Album

“Like finding another room in the great pyramids.”

Sonny Rollins

Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album (March 6, 1963)

John Coltrane

 

I just listened to the deluxe version of these recordings. All of them and this music is some of John Coltrane’s most accessible music. A powerful find of hidden American art so to speak. This music is truly special, representing a very special time in the thirty-seven-year-old saxophone player’s life.

The significance of the recent discovery of the so-called “Lost Album” of Coltrane is emphasized by leading Coltrane scholar Lewis Porter writing on the WBGO website, “I’ve devoted a significant portion of my professional life to studying this band — as a jazz performer, a Coltrane biographer and researcher, and an educator — and discoveries of this scale are few and far between. It’s been known for many years that the session occurred, but the master tapes were gone and it was not known that any copies existed. The new release, Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album, is a truly significant event. First and foremost, of course, the music is topnotch Coltrane Quartet in the midpoint of the group’s career.”

There are 14 pieces on the released deluxe music from the Both Directions at Once recording date. Among these 14, there are a number of original pieces from Coltrane, except for “Nature Boy” below. But, tremendously powerful melodies coming from Trane at this time with his music. A real mixture between a sweet period of his life and one that moves forward. It was such an interesting transition period in his life as evidenced by the incredible mixture of emotions contained in this music. It is more than worthy of its own story inside the biography on Coltrane I wrote called Spirit Catcher.

* * *

The album is important because of the new light it throws on a period of Coltrane’s music that is not well documented. As Lewis Porter notes, it is the first new studio album to be released by the group since the 1970s, which saw the recordings Transition, Sun Ship and First Meditations … all from 1965. As Porter says, “Here we have a representation of what it sounded like early in 1963, a period that’s only documented on a few short radio broadcasts.”

I cover this period of Coltrane’s life with a chapter titled “Reflection” in my Coltrane biography. Many jazz scholars term it Coltrane’s “ballad” years when he slowed down and attempted to make his music more accessible to the public. It needed to reconnect with its audience as Trane’s music in the first years of 1960 was filled with avant-garde experiements with musicians such as Don Cherry, Eric Dolphy and Sun Ra and albums such as Africa/Brass, Live at the Village Vanguard and Impressions. His most popular piece was the 1960 “My Favorite Things” and his producer Bob Thiele wanted to make Coltrane’s music accessible again to a wider jazz audience outside the relative small avant garde audience.

* * *

Thiele didn’t drag Coltrane kicking against his will into the ballad years. Rather, it was a direction Coltrane wanted to pursue himself. Rather than a new direction, the “ballad” years are best characterized as a period of reflection by Coltrane on where he had been and where he wanted to go. In February of 1963, the album Duke Ellington and John Coltrane was released and on March 7, the album John Coltrane With Johnny Hartman was released. Johnny Hartman’s smooth voice was a long way from the music Trane had recorded with Eric Dolphy and Sun Ra. In fact, recording with a singer was very unusual by itself for Coltrane. Significantly, the Hartman album was recorded the very next day after the Both Directions at Once album. The wedging of the music of Both Directions between the Ellington and Hartman albums shows Trane was still experimenting. But now, his experiments were producing much more accessible, melodic music. It isn’t ballads heard on Both Directions but it is also not the far-out avant garde music of the early 60s.

Coltrane, Johnny Hartman and McCoy Tyner

Here, Coltrane and the quartet are at a peak of its power and synergy. As the album title appropriately observes, Coltrane is like going in “both directions” at once: looking back and reflecting and looking forward. In many ways, he is like a modern symbol of the Roman God Janus, the god of beginnings, transitions, passages and endings who is depicted has having two faces: one looking into the future and the other into the past. Both directions at once, as Trane’s music looks back and forward with this music.

Lewis Porter makes an interesting speculation on why this brilliant session was not released. In his article on the WBGO site, he observes that the album went against Thiele’s mission of presenting Coltrane’s gentle side. “The album didn’t fit into this plan,” says Porter. “And, by the end of the year, when enough time had passed that perhaps yet another album could have been released, Coltrane and Thiele probably both felt that the March session was old news.”

Untitled Original (11383 – Take One)(Play Music of this piece below)

Right out of the box, Trane comes at us in some of the most powerful and accessible music of his career. Much like his standby piece of Impressionsrecorded a few years earlier. But here, it seems like an update of Impressions into something new and powerful. Tyner has learned the perfect offsetting keys and chords to throw at Coltrane in the three years the Quartet has been together. And the rhythm section of the Quartet has perfected a powerful backup to Coltrane.

The year was 1963. It was a time of two people in his life. This music certainly shows a spirit and fiery radiance that others could only draw from. The music creates a new landscape to be explored as well as imposing particular boundaries on this landscape.

The next day, he would slow things down from the frantic pace of this music (this day) to a recording of the music of Johnny Hartman the next day. His association with Johnny Hartman is associated with Coltrane’s “slowing down” period when he created some slower and gentler tunes. Of course, the marketing and PR people were getting involved in business of marketing John Coltrane. This direction seemed best for his career at the time by a set of advisors.

They might be asking the young Coltrane to slow things down in the upcoming period of his life, yet they couldn’t ask him to slow things down on this recording made a day before Coltrane went into the studio and recorded with the smooth singing Johnny Hartman. Much of the effect of this powerful straight-ahead piece is provided by the bugle “reveille” call as Trane’s sax seems to play this role.

The Jeckle and Hyde persona was invented by Sherlock Holmes. Yet in Both Directions at Once, the literary power of Holmes is translated into musical power. For me, the musical power is greater than the literary power. The grand ideas battling in the 25-year-old’s mind are bounced back-and-forth and given new and different expression in this brilliant piece of music. One of his most powerful pieces from this period and prophetic for what would come.

Nature Boy

This piece shows Coltrane was already deep within the middle eastern sound. It evidences even more that Coltrane really brought eastern music into jazz. Perhaps because of his politics at the time. More much more likely because he was an artist and never tied to any particular party. Perhaps that is what always attracted me to his person and music.

Untitled Original (11386 – Take 2)

Don’t believe for a second that these numbered pieces are not some of the best Trane you will ever hear. This piece perhaps represents some of the most melodic of his career. It is a powerful mixture of the two modes of his art that Trane would later further explore. One tune, the simple bars of a Pied Piper of music, enticing us away with the simple tune. A jolly-go-lucky tune.

Then, the music turns serious suddenly and then back again to its carefree melody and rhythm at the beginning of the song. The one side questions and entices while the other side swings incredibly with the powerful back-up of Tyner at piano, Jones on drums, on Elvin Jones on bass and of course Trane experimenting on various Saxophones.

The play between the two sides of Trane on this song prophesizes the new life soon ahead for the expanding artist. The music on this piece reappears in the music of Alice Coltrane and her harp music tribute to Trane in the early 70s with the Infinityalbum.

One Up, One Down (Take 1) 

Another powerful melody from Coltrane. Again, some of the most melodic I’ve ever heard from his horn. There is little doubt that this was an important time in his life and this had produced this incredible music. Perhaps some of the most powerful music recently released. Again, the Coltrane Quartet operating at full power. In the middle of the music, Tyner comes upon the scene in a powerful, commanding manner. It is another announcement that the young pianist has taken over the thrown of modern jazz piano. Here such a play between Tyner and the piano and then Jones.

Vilia (Take 5)

The tune “Vilia” was composed by Franz Lehar and arranged by Artie Shaw and recorded by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra on January 17, 1939 for RCA-Bluebird in New York City. It was recorded again by Glenn Miller (1941) but it was not well known. As Porter notes, “However, significantly, it was in Hartman’s repertory at this time, and seems likely that Hartman turned Coltrane on to this song (though he himself never recorded it).”

It is a light and beautiful tune. Again, some of the best and most melodic music I’ve ever heard in the entire Trane music. What a simple, happy piece of music. This shows a grand happiness that Trane had at the time and not any sadness. One of his most uplifting pieces of music I’ve heard from Trane. Again, Tyner’s powerful offshoot to Trane’s horn with his piano coming halfway into this beautiful piece of music. This is some the happiest and joyous of Trane’s music I have ever heard. It precedes the offerings of Trane’s 1965 A Love Supreme. At the same time, it has much of the religious themes of the later music of A Love Supreme. Listen to Tyner take control a little over half-way through the piece. And then Coltrane come back at the end. This has already become one of my favorite Coltrane pieces and I’ve only heard it a few times.

Impressions (Take 1)

A powerful rendition of what would become a signature piece of music for Coltrane.

* * *

This album (and particularly the originally composed songs above) show Coltrane at a powerful peak in his career. He certainly would do crazier things in his life and musical career of four more years. But the two sides of Coltrane I don’t believe are ever demonstrated more than they are demonstrated on these brilliant “lost recordings” of John Coltrane and his Quartet. All of this made more poignant knowing that the next day he begins a type of slow-down period and effect in his music. He was losing fans with all of his strange music and critics were writing that they couldn’t understand his music. There were debates raging in the pages of great jazz publications like Down Beatand debates of many in jazz. This music shows Coltrane before going into temporary “slow down” mode by his advisors.

For a short period, that is. The advisors and handlers could not force him to stay with cool, slow music. The Johnny Hartman sessions came and went and soon seemed forgotten in the new experiments of Coltrane. Hartman was one of the finest and smoothest vocalists in all of jazz and the recordings with Hartman very popular with jazz fans. But the evolving Coltrane was quickly moving into new areas and leaving this slow period behind. The Lost Album shows Trane before he was told to slow down by his music advisors. It wasn’t exactly a slowed down music but at the same time, a fascinating mixture between two emotions and modes.

 

Listen to the Music of 11383

Lost Album Cover

 

References

Lewis Porter on Coltrane’s Lost Album

The background of “Vilia”

Digital Booklet – Both Directions at Once_ The Lost Album

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