Swimming in the River Coltrane: Both Directions at Once

Reviewed by Hank Cherry

While much of John Coltrane’s posthumously issued work filters the mysticism of his live performances, those mystic shadows do spread into Both Directions at Once, the newly released studio recording from March 6th1963. At the time, Coltrane was working out transformative sounds while trying to retain a marketable presence. He wanted to sell more records but also, he wanted to explore the parameters of his band, his horn, and his mind. The two co-led sessions that bookend this album on Coltrane’s studio timeline certify his urge to remain in demand, while live outings like Newport ’63 and Live in Stockholm 1963 validate his experimental needs.

Image for post
Image for post

The immediate predecessor to BDaO, a beatific outing with Duke Ellington from September ’62 framed Coltrane’s expressionistic curiosity with Ellington’s rarefied compositional depth. The two giants delivered an album saturated with finesse. On March 7th, 1963, the succeeding session to Both Directions at Once, saw the quartet along with Johnny Hartman birth the magisterial John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, a consummate assemblage of balladeer and band. It was also Coltrane’s lone team-up with a vocalist as a solo artist. He needed to mollify critics, like the poet and critic Philip Larkin, to whom Coltrane’s modal system was “metallic and passionless.” With the Ellington and Hartman sides winning back critics, Coltrane was ready to climb back into his own sound.

The past five years have seen an uptick in Coltrane focused media. Six rolls of unseen photographs featuring Coltrane and band making A Love Supreme came to light in 2014. A new documentary, Chasing Trane, arrived in 2017. The San Francisco church dedicated to “Saint” John Coltrane faced eviction and moved to a new location in 2016. Blue Note released a collection of Coltrane working as a sideman. And also in 2014, upstart Resonance Records put out Offering- Live at Temple University, a 1966 performance recorded months before the musician succumbed to liver cancer. That live date highlighted a completely different band than the classic quartet featured on Both Directions at Once. Offering’s Coltrane stares death in the face with a bone withering performance that is well removed from the exploratory but percolating distillations of March 1963.

Image for post
Image for post
John Coltrane, Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison and McCoy Tyner. Photo courtesy of Jim Marshall.

To read the rest of Cherry’s review, go to Riot Material magazine: https://www.riotmaterial.com/coltrane-both-directions/

And please follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/riotmaterial/

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store