John Coltrane’s Entire 1963 Recordings Packaged in Three-Disc Set ‘1963: New Directions” (ALBUM REVIEW)

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Leveraging the success of the rediscovered “lost album” Both Directions at Once issued by Impulse this past June, the label has collected the iconic tenor saxophonist’s recordings for that pivotal year into one 3-disc package. Coltrane’s name has been very visible lately, not only with the “lost album” but with the successful film documentary Chasin’ the Trane and the John and Alice Coltrane Home in Dix Hills, Long Island, where he composed several classics including “A Love Supreme,” named a national treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation just last month.

1963 was a pivotal year in many respects for Coltrane, whose career was already on a high trajectory after leaving Miles and the brilliant Kind of Blue to his own Giant Steps in 1960 and My Favorite Things in 1961. The year 1962 was a mixed bag of albums like Ballads and Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, reflecting the label’s desire to keep him mainstream; with the explorative work he was doing with Eric Dolphy in Live at the Village Vanguard. Additionally his marriage was breaking up, and, as revealed in the liners, he was having lots of trouble with his mouthpiece. He recounted in an interview, “I did a foolish thing. I got dissatisfied with my mouthpiece and I has some work done on this thing, and instead of making it better it ruined it. It really discouraged me a little bit, because there were certain aspects of playing that I couldn’t get because I had damaged this thing so I just had to curtail it.”

He soon became re-energized and eager to push the boundaries again in 1963. Rather than recast the story of the “lost album” (Disc One) and its material, reference {insert link to June review}. Those recordings took place on March 6th and the following day the quartet returned to record ballads with Johnny Hartman in what is now the iconic John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, the third in the trilogy of traditional ballad-like albums. Comparing the restraint and exquisite delivery of the quartet in this setting to Disc One reflects how versatile and talented Trane’s classic quartet of Tyner, Garrison and Jones was.

Also on Disc Two is the opening 11-minute “Slow Blues,” also recorded on March 6th, the gorgeous “After the Rain” and the interpreted folk song “Dear Old Stockholm,” the latter two recorded in April  with drummer Roy Haynes, who replaced Jones for three months because Jones was rehabbing in a narcotics facility. Haynes is also heard on the last track on Disc Two, a rendering, also now classic, of Billy Eckstine’s “I Want to Talk About You,” recorded live at the Newport Jazz Festival in Jul Trane devotees and ardent listeners will quickly detect the difference in styles between Haynes and Jones.

Disc Three begins with two other extended live tracks from the Newport Jazz Festival, a 17-minute fiery “My Favorite Things,” with Trane on soprano and a  stretched-out 15-minute “Impressions’’ on tenor, the latter showing just how exploratory and aggressive Trane was in soloing compared to event he versions of the same on Disc One. Those are followed with the three live tracks and the return of Elvin Jones from the original Live at Birdland – “The Promise,” a more extensive and relaxed “I Want to Talk About You,” and Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro-Blue,” another now classic. The final two tracks on Disc Three also appeared on Live at Birdland, the November studio recordings “Your Lady,” referencing his future wife Alice, and the beginnings of his spiritual side in the now legendary “Alabama,” written for the four African-American girls killed in bombing of a Birmingham AL church that past September.

David Wild provides some interesting information on “Alabama” in the liners, detailing that two versions were released from the group’s five takes of the tune. Take Four breaks down shortly after Coltrane starts to solo and Take Five is limited to a full statement of the them without solos. A production error led to the combined Take Four and Take Five being released while subsequently Take Five was substituted. It’s the former we hear on the disc, because the producers felt its structure and especially the incomplete solo, better reflect the event it eulogizes.

This disc clearly shows the versatility and evolution of Trane’s sound and “Alabama” presages the important work Coltrane would do in the following 1964, when he delivered his spiritual masterpieces Crescent, A Love Supreme, and the exploratory Ascension and Meditations, which further stretched the boundaries of jazz and became the hallmarks of Coltrane’s avant-garde period which kept developing in the next three years prior to his passing.  

Even if you have the 7-disc box set of the Classic Quartet, you won’t have Disc One and you’ll be missing the five tracks that include Roy Haynes herein.  One can never have enough of John Coltrane’s music.

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