Sunday Music: New Coltrane

Sonny Rollins said it was “like finding a new room in the Great Pyramid.”

If you don’t know much (or even anything) about jazz but are curious why others have gotten so excited, just know this: Coltrane helped to evolve jazz as a musical style over several decades. He not only helped to push the envelope and set new standards for what could he done, but he also displayed mastery at each twist and turn.

Imagine an athlete who leads multiple teams to numerous titles over the course of a career, despite changes in every imaginable variable – teammates, coaches, cities, styles of play, etc. How could they always stay one step ahead? That’s Coltrane.

This “new” album, “Both Directions at Once,” comes from 1963, which was a special period in his own development. Coltrane is already leading his most famous band, and they are fast approaching what many critics regard as their creative peak.

The album was recorded a day before (literally) one of my personal favorite albums, “John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman,” and a few years after his “hit” version of “My Favorite Things.” Their masterpiece “A Love Supreme” was still a few years in the future.

We get to hear takes and outtakes which shed clues on what he and his bandmates were working on, and get a feel for where they collectively were in the process of writing the history books of how music could be performed and improvised.

“Both Directions At Once” makes for pure listening joy for any jazz fan. It’s like a new piece of the fossil record that we knew existed but just hadn’t seen before, or finding an additional manuscript or updated draft from a famous author.

Because it’s only a little bit “out” – meaning it is only moderately challenging for the average listener in harmony and rhythm, with plenty of familiar jazz “swing” underneath, it’s also approachable for any regular person to just put on.

Put Drake and The Carter’s on pause, read up on why this matters, and check this album out.