On ‘Both Directions At Once,’ John Coltrane hangs like a pendulum between ages, swinging from his past to his future and back again. Ahead of him there was avant-garde jazz – ‘A Love Supreme’ and ‘Ascension.’ Behind him was bebop – ‘Blue Train’ and ‘Giant Steps.’ And, lost for decades, there was this record. The missing link between the two generations.
Untitled Original 11386 grooves forth mounted on Elvin Jones’s ride cymbal. His subtle variations and the snare and tom interjections have all the random beauty of the crest of a wave. For just like a wave, they would never be repeated. It’s not a pattern that makes them breathtaking. But the all-natural lack thereof. As if the listener is truly getting a for-one-night-only experience.
All the spontaneity of great jazz is present on ‘Both Directions At Once.’ Coltrane turns on pennies during his solos, moving from the past to the future and back again in a breath. The dissonant techniques adopted by future free jazz players like Albert Ayler make occasional appearances. And are followed by phrases of the past’s bebop mastery. On Impressions, pianist McCoy Tyner lays out, letting Coltrane explore the outer realms of Ornette Coleman’s harmolodics. But Coltrane’s playing in the opening bars, far from sounding inaccessible or inscrutable, stands up as great bebop. Then he turns on his heel and frees up his playing, flying for the heavens on his saxophone.
One Up One Down appears on this record for the first, and only, time as a studio recording. Jones’s drums battle it out with Coltrane’s sax, each of their solos challenging the other to aim higher. The track races through its eight minutes, with Coltrane firing off notes like throwing knives. McCoy Tyner’s piano solo features incredibly beautiful passages that contrast strongly against the force of the track’s pace and his bandmates’ soloing. His shimmering chords calling to mind the spiritual jazz of Coltrane disciple Pharoah Sanders. Heavenly in their horizon-spanning spaciousness.
The other previously unreleased original composition alongside Untitled Original 11386, is opening track Untitled Original 11383. Jimmy Garrison’s bowed bass solo is uninhibited by harmonic constraints or even the drums’ timekeeping. But rather than wander aimlessly, Garrison keeps his runs linked together. Never breaking the thread of coherency running through the track.
Even at its most liberated, ‘Both Directions At Once,’ never descends into self-indulgence. And during the ensemble sections, it doesn’t fall into the trap of stately classicism. Coltrane and his quartet strike a balance between the ages to come after the album’s 1963 recording, and the ages that birthed it. Rather than sounding betwixt and between or unsure, they sound affirmed and fearless. As if their journey was only beginning.