Tracing Coltrane’s Footsteps in Jersey

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John Coltrane’s Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album (Impulse!) was recorded in 1963 and only now is being released.

(Photo: Chuck Stewart)

Walking into the cool interiors of the Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, it’s hard not to feel a sense of awe at its unparalleled legacy of jazz recording. The first thing that catches your eye is the studio’s massive vaulted ceiling, its cedar panels and Douglas fir arches forming a vast cathedral-like space, suitable for recording, meditation or veneration of a historic jazz recording.

This was the setting for a June 11 listening session that gave journalists a preview of an album that was recorded in 1963 in this venerated space: John Coltrane’s Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album (Impulse!). Present for the event was the iconic saxophonist’s son, Ravi Coltrane.

“Some people thought John Coltrane was going to end jazz. That he was anti-jazz. [This music] was different from what the was the norm for jazz musicians at the time,” Ravi noted. “When John went with this music in 1961, particularly ‘Impressions,’ it was such a shift. It’s amazing to hear it today. It’s relevant, it doesn’t sound like old music. It sounds as modern as it did in 1963.”

As Both Directions At Once played over a pair of vintage studio monitors, Ravi closed his eyes and rocked slowly back and forth in his seat.

Coltrane’s beautiful soprano flowed throughout the studio space, leading your mind and eyes to wander. The tools of recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder’s art are hidden in corners and covered under tarps nowadays. Toward the end of his career, Van Gelder (1924–2016) preferred digital over analog recording equipment. Some of the earlier machines still are in the studio: an Ampex reel-to-reel tape deck wrapped in plastic, what appeared to be a McIntosh tube amplifier and an old acetate cutting lathe.

Van Gelder’s control booth was off limits to visitors. (His Neve console is now operated by Maureen Sickler.) The studio walls are adorned with Van Gelder’s nature photographs. Perched atop one of three isolation booths, a stuffed red cardinal stands sentry. Is this taxidermy simply for aesthetihics?

“If the drummer was too loud,” Sickler said, “the bird would fall off the ledge. It was one of Rudy’s testing devices.” DB



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December 2018
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