Sunday, November 4, 2018

John Coltrane "Both Directions at Once" (Impulse!, 2018)

March 6th, 1963. Englewood Cliffs, Van Gelder Studios. Saxophonist John Coltrane joined his partners – bassist Jimmy Garrison, pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones – for a recording session. The result will be: four short versions of Impressions (one pianoless), two untitled originals with Trane on soprano (the most interesting pieces), a version of Nature Boy which is a short game based on the theme of the song, two versions of Vilia, one Slow Blues and two versions of the piece One Up, One Down.

Part of the material, recorded the day before the session with singer Johnny Hartman, is pianoless. That means that possibly Trane had Sonny Rollins, his eternal rival, in mind. Hearing for the first time this material, Rollins said “This is like finding a new room in the great pyramid”. But we're so far here from a “new Coltrane album”, from a “lost album”.

The recordings, held by Naima Grubbs, Trane's first wife, and discovered only recently, are in fact only a session of music, recorded only with the purpose of leaving Coltrane free to listen to them. An album is usually something more complex, with material coming from different sessions. So, while listening to this record anyone can feel like a peeping tom, which is quite good since you're listening to unreleased material by John Coltrane.

Ok, so what about the music? The two untitled originals go near the land of free jazz, while the remaining pieces are pure post-bop. Trane himself described his style and articulation to Wayne Shorter as “starting a sentence in the middle and then going to the beginning and the end of it at the same time”.

And obviously you can hear that in this session. The music in this album is important since you can hear Coltrane on solid rock starting with his future sonic experimentations, in a period, our present tense, of reflux, with so many musicians standing on solid ground. A call to do something else, something new.

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