Both Directions at Once, the newly unearthed “lost album” by legendary saxophonist John Coltrane, is a fantastic reminder that jazz can be just as melodic and catchy as it is technically skilled.
The album, recorded for Impulse! Records in 1963 with Coltrane’s “classic quartet” (McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums), was found amongst the long-deceased musician’s holdings in possession of his first wife, Juanita Naima.
Coltrane’s sax is the obvious star of the show, providing unique melodies and acrobatic solos on every track, especially on the minimalist “Impressions.” But the ferocious drumming of Elvin Jones and the intricate piano movements of McCoy Tyler prove just as fun, impressive and emotive as Coltrane’s performance.
The group’s chemistry keeps this album from seeming like a contest. A blast of rapid drums, a wild saxophone solo or a complex piano bridge are always working smoothly to fit into the songs, each which has a distinct flavor and melody. Tracks like “Villa,” a sunny piece with a slow tempo, “Nature Boy,” an ominous piece of African-inspired jazz, or “Slow Blues,” a groovy march with a few unexpected but amazing changes all sound like they were recorded by a completely different (but just as skilled) band.
The pair of “Untitled Originals” (Tracks 1 and 3) are just as engaging and beautiful, showcasing Coltrane’s ability to weave in between a catchy riff and a sprawling solo with subtlety and ease. The album’s final track, “One Up, One Down,” is a climactic finish, with some especially insane drumming that would make one think Jones has three arms.
The bass on this album leaves a little bit to be desired, especially considering Garrison’s immaculate performance on A Love Supreme. The alternate takes (on the Deluxe Version) don’t bring much to the table in comparison with their counterparts on the main album, but hardcore Coltrane fans will most likely love them.
Both Directions at Once is a stunning snapshot of some of jazz’s all-time greatest musicians at their peak, and one of the most varied yet consistent pieces of jazz released this year.
Claire Brown is a writer and a total music nerd. She has been writing for MMC since 2018.