Those who share my opinion that there is no such thing as too many recordings of jazz saxophonist John Coltrane probably treasure the eight-CD collection from Impulse! Records entitled The Classic Quartet – Complete Impulse! Studio Recordings. Coltrane played both tenor and soprano saxophone at those studio sessions, joined by McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums. All of the tracks were recorded at Rudy van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, between December 21, 1961 and September 22, 1965.
The accompanying booklet provides a thorough account of what was recorded at which sessions, also documenting any changes to the “classic quartet” personnel. Not everything on that list found its way to release. Some of the takes are explicitly labeled “rejected,” meaning unworthy of release. However, others are listed as “unissued (no tape),” meaning that the source of the recording of that take could not be found. This label can be found for the date of March 6, 1963, which has seven take numbers, only one of which was released, a performance of “Vilia” on the third album given the title The Definitive Jazz Scene.
At the end of last month, Impulse! released the album Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album. This probably accounts for those six unissued takes and much more. The “Deluxe Edition” of this album consists of two CDs, each with fourteen tracks. The first of those two is also being released as a single “Standard Edition” CD. This single CD is the same as the first “Deluxe” CD; and the second “Deluxe” CD consists entirely of alternate takes of content on the first CD. Two of the “Standard” tracks are labeled “Untitled Original,” labeled only by the take numbers 11383 and 11386, respectively. The second CD includes two alternative takes of the 11386 recording.
With one exception Coltrane is the center of attention on all of these tracks. These are comparatively short when compared with his later work involving more extended durations. Only the “Slow Blues” track allows the rhythm players to take some of the spotlight. Nevertheless, these are consistently well-integrated accounts in which the quartet is very much an organic whole, even if Coltrane is responsible for almost all of the improvising.
To be fair, this new release is likely to appeal primarily to Coltrane connoisseurs. Those just beginning to get to know Coltrane would do well to take that Classic Quartet collection as a point of departure, even if it is not the earliest recorded document of Coltrane’s work. However, bearing in mind that the first tracks were recorded on December 21, 1961, it is worth observing that Coltrane did not take any of his own work into van Gelder’s studio until June 20, 1962. Beginners will probably benefit from listening to Coltrane’s take on the music of others before taking the plunge into his original work. To be fair, however, the “Standard” edition includes both “Vilia” and “Nature Boy,” both of which are excellent examples of the more intimate site of Coltrane’s rhetoric.
For my part, on the other hand, I expect to be spending a fair amount of time with both of the “Deluxe” CDs. From a mathematical point of view, just about every track that Coltrane ever recorded has high “information content.” Those who have followed this site for some time know of my interest in Henri Bergson and his idea that the premise behind the concept of "disorder" simply indicates that mind has not yet come up with a way to impose order on the associated stimuli. Where listening to Coltrane is concerned, my mind is so exercised in imposing order that I often encounter a new order each time I return to one of his tracks!