Record Reviews

John Coltrane

Album: “Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album”

Grade: A

It’s a rare pleasure to hear this “lost” John Coltrane album for the first time. The component sounds of his classic quartet are so familiar that it’s like hearing from an old friend — but the songs and solos are truly new. The original high quality tape recording, fruit of a glorious one-day session at Rudy Van Gelder’s famed New Jersey studio, was in the hands of the family of Coltrane’s ex-wife Naima, and the well-produced CD released 55 years later captures the quartet in its prime.

“Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album” is not a bootleg, a rehearsal or a throwaway album of second-rate work. It may lack the majesty of “A Love Supreme” or the commercial appeal of “My Favorite Things,” but it does not fall far short of those masterpieces. It’s not just Coltrane, of course, but the distinctive blend of McCoy Tyner’s piano, Elvin Jones’ drums and Jimmy Garrison’s bass that makes this release so vital. The band fits together perfectly; there isn’t a moment of discord or misunderstanding.

Coltrane’s work on both tenor and soprano sax is astonishing. The solos soar, yet he never seems to be straining. The songs build in familiar ways, but he manages to surprise. The sound is so assured and diverse that it’s hard to believe it was performed in a single afternoon before the quartet rushed off to Birdland across the Hudson River in Manhattan for several live sets. Coltrane, who died of cancer in 1967 at age 40, was back in the studio the next day, recording another album in an entirely different vein. He was clearly bursting with ideas, and totally confident in his ability to make them work.

There are a few hints of the free jazz to come, but Coltrane is still working within traditional structures. The album features two original untitled songs that have never been heard before, with Coltrane on soprano, along with the first recording of “Nature Boy,” a version of “Impressions,” and other treats. The deluxe version comes with a second CD adding more tunes to the mix.

—Gregory Katz, Associated Press

Jonathan McEuen

Album: “Through the Sun Gate”

Grade: B+

Front and center for a change, Jonathan McEuen immediately plays to his strength on “Through the Sun Gate.” “Sunshine ... sun shining in my eyes,” he sings to kick things off, and his sunny tenor gives the album its distinctive stamp.

McEuen made a terrific record with cousin Jamie Hanna in 2005 (each is the son of a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band founding member), and has enjoyed a successful career in supporting roles. While solo forays have been rare, the Southern Californian excels here performing music reminiscent of the early Eagles, Poco and the Flying Burrito Brothers, thanks to a voice that combines pop polish with country character.

McEuen co-wrote two of the 11 tunes but mostly chooses covers, and the variety of the material gives the coastal country genre a fresh twist. “Fools Gold” has roots in Western swing, and “Nazareth, PA” gets bluesy, while the closing “Last Call” is hat-act honky-tonk. And McEuen overdubs harmonies as tight as the best bluegrass.

The pace is snappy, with several tunes clocking in at less than three minutes, and the biggest quibble would be that the album gives McEuen’s excellent guitar work short shrift. Pedal steel, organ, piano and fiddle also play supporting roles, but the arrangements are built around McEuen’s singing. No complaints there.

—Steven Wine, Associated Press

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