Expectations is high on the new release of a previously unreleased 1963 studio session of saxophonist John Coltrane’s quartet called ”Both Directions At Once: The Lost Session”. It is yet another possible piece of the musical jigsaw puzzle that Coltrane left for his fans to discover after his early death in 1967 at 40 years of age.
Since Coltrane died so young and he was recorded so prolific both in the studio and in concert there has been numberous posthumous releases of his music since his passing.
Impulse records had a wealth of both studio and live recordings of Coltrane recordings at the time of his death and continued to release them on vinyl the following ten years.The material included whole studio sessions like ”Sun Ship”, ”Om”, ”Interstellar Space”, ”Transition” and ”First Meditations (for quartet)”, live recordings like ”Live In Seattle” and ”Live In Japan”, and pieces of sessions which was released on anthologies like ”Selflessness” and ”Feelin’ Good”.
Pablo records also released a lot of European concert recordings of Coltrane’s quartet from 1962 and 1963 where they play material from albums such as ”Giant Steps”, ”My Favorite Things”, ”Live at the Village Vanguard” and ”Live at Birdland”. These albums have later been rereleased by Original Jazz Classics.
New Coltrane in the CD era
Starting in the 1980s most of this music has been reissued on CD, sometimes with unreleased bonus tracks or with previously released alternate tracks.
Completely new material have been scarcer, but most releases of them has been revelatory.
In 1995 GRP/Impulse released a whole 1967 session of Coltrane’s quartet with pianist Alice Coltrane, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Rashied Ali called ”Stellar Regions”. The only previously released track from that session was ”Offering” from the 1967 album ”Expression”. The title track is a quartet version of the song ”Venus” which Coltrane also recorded as a duet with Ali on ”Interstellar Space”. The other tracks reveals a much more lyrical version of Coltrane’s last phase than the often lengthy and sometimes chaotic live recordings with many different musicians added to the band.
The by then legendary and presumed lost alternate sextet recordings of ”A Love Supreme” was released in 2002 by Verve/Impulse along with the original version of the album and a live recording of the suite from France in 1965. The only track the sextet with saxophonist Archie Shepp recorded was the first piece of the suite, ”Acknowledgement”. It is not as revelatory as one could imagine but tells something about Coltrane’s will to continue to explore and expand his quartet after it had reached perfection.
The legendary Monk collaboration
A real revelation was the 2005 Blue Note release of the 1957 live recording ”Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane At Carnegie Hall”. In very good sound it tells the most complete version of the legendary collaboration between Monk and Coltrane which up to that point had been told mostly through legend, a few studio recordings and a live recording with extremely poor sound. Coltrane plays with a self-assured maturity on these recordings which he had been lacking up to that point.
The same year saw the first commercial release of the 1965 Half Note recordings, ”One Down, One Up” by Verve/Impulse. It has the quartet with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones at their peak playing complex and rich versions of new and old favorites of the band. It is among the best Coltrane you can find on record, as is the Monk recording.
In 2014 Resonance/Impulse released the live double album ”Offering: Live At Temple University” which in good sound tells the story of Coltrane performing with an expanded group of young musical explorers.
Is there more to come?
This spring saw the Sony release of the extensive Miles Davis & John Coltrane ”Final Tour” album where you can hear Coltrane playing with Davis on their first and only European tour together in 1960.
And now there is a new previously unreleased 1963 studio album to look forward to.
Will there be a point in time where there are no new Coltrane material to release? Probably, but not in the near future.
In a 1992 feature in Downbeat magazine producer Michael Cuscuna talked about tapes with Coltrane in the possession of Alice Coltrane which to her memory included tapes with alto saxophonist Marion Brown added to the band.
And the new Coltrane album ”Both Directions At Once” were not even found in Alice Coltrane’s estate, but in that of Coltrane’s first wife, Naima.
You can probably count on that there will be some more unissued Coltrane at least in 2026 when it is a hundred years since he was born.