Iconic Lost Sessions In Jazz

Lost – or simply ‘put away and forgotten’ – there have been a wealth of jazz albums unearthed in recent years.

For many jazz fans, the idea that the best musicians in jazz history are reaching back from the grave to give us new music, is cause for major excitement!

And, whether or not they live up to their celebrated discographies, it’s true the chance to discover a new chapter in a previously closed book is fascinating.

So, reclaimed from the vaults or simply rediscovered and released as lost sessions, we picked 5 of the most ground-breaking recordings featuring Miles Davis, Art Blakey, John Coltrane and more…

John Coltrane – Both Directions at Once (Impulse!)

Recorded March 6, 1963 // Released Jun 29, 2018

John Coltrane (tenor & soprano saxophones); McCoy Tyner (piano); Jimmy Garrison (double bass); Elvin Jones (drums)

Both Directions at Once caused a stir back in 2018 when rumours got out about its impending release, and quite rightly so too.

It catches Coltrane’s ‘Classic Quartet’ at the pinnacle of its powers, and provides a superb glimpse of the group prior to the hugely influential recordings Crescent and A Love Supreme from 1964.

Recorded the day before Coltrane’s famous session with vocalist Johnny Hartman, it also provides some previously unheard compositions.

With Coltrane in such a prolific phase in his career, it’s likely that his label had more than enough material to cover his ‘two albums per year’ obligation and deemed it unnecessary to release any further music at that time.

Quite why we had to wait more than 50 years to hear these additional recordings we don’t know!

The tapes from the session were not recovered from the Impulse! Records vaults, but the mono recordings of the days playing held by Coltrane’s family.

As expected, any new document of the music of John Coltrane caused enormous interest, and the recordings duly provide an additional and highly welcome snapshot to the inner workings of the group.

The quartet were in magnificent form, but by their own standards it’s paramount to another day at the office.

Over the course of just over two hours there is much fine music to be heard, and as such is an invaluable document one of the greatest quartets in jazz.

Stan Getz – Getz At The Gate (Live) (Verve)

Recorded November 26, 1961 // Released June 14, 2019

Stan Getz (tenor saxophone); Steve Kuhn (piano); John Neves (bass); Roy Haynes (drums)

Getz At The Gate is an excellent live album rediscovered for release half a Century after its recording, featuring Getz with his working band, who are all playing at the top of their game.

Interestingly, this recording catches the saxophonist at time of change in his musical thinking and outlook.

He’d just finished the album Focus – a series of magnificent arrangements with a string orchestra – and was entering his Bossa Nova phase.

The material is typical Getz fare from the time, with a selection of familiar bebop anthems alongside compositions from the Great American Songbook.

The saxophonist is in belligerent form on the blistering Sonny Rollins composition ‘Airegin’, and his command of that wonderful tenor sound is heard caressing the melody of ‘Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most’.

This lost recording is a magical snapshot not just of the quality of the playing, but the genuine transitional nature of Getz as he perhaps realises that he has taken the traditional quartet as far as he can with the scope of his own playing and seeks something new.

Vintage Getz that can be recommended to all.

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers – First Flight To Tokyo: The Lost 1961 Recordings (Blue Note)

Recorded January 14, 1961 // Released November 5, 2021

Lee Morgan (trumpet); Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone); Bobby Timmons (piano); Jymie Merritt (bass); Art Blakey (drums)

Lost albums by some of the finest jazz musicians are often touted as essential new listening, but often the value is simply that the music has been previously unheard.

From there, it appears to be the job of the label to sell it as indispensable and the verdict is left to the record buying public and reviewers to decide its fate.

First Flight To Tokyo is a live recording taken from the Jazz Messengers’ first ever trip to Japan. Playing to an enthusiastic audience, Blakey and the Messengers delivered a couple of sets of favourites from the band’s repertoire.

Put like that one wonders what all the hype was about when this recording was unearthed for release in 2021.

But with Blakey nothing was ever less than 100% and this album features one of his finest line ups, all are on top form.

Even ‘Moanin’’ takes on a new lease of life, and saxophonist Wayne Shorter inevitably has a different perspective on the tune from his predecessor Benny Golson, whilst Lee Morgan gets a fine outing on Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round about Midnight’ on muted trumpet.

As fine as the performances are, the recommendation would still be to get the studio recordings first, followed by A Night at Birdland (Vol. 1&2) and both disks of At the Cafe Bohemia.

These ‘lost’ sessions can then be assessed appropriately against the originally issued body of work – and admired in their full context.

John Coltrane – Blue World (Impulse!)

Recorded June 24, 1964 // Released September 27, 2019

John Coltrane (tenor & soprano saxophones); McCoy Tyner (piano); Jimmy Garrison (double bass); Elvin Jones (drums)

1964 was quite a year for John Coltrane and his ‘classic’ quartet, with arguably their finest ever studio work committed to tape: this unearthed Blue World session was sandwiched between the dates that yielded Crescent (April 27 & June 1) and the epic A Love Supreme on December 9, 1964.

Recorded without the knowledge of his record label, Coltrane agreed to provide the soundtrack for the film Le chat dans le sac, probably as a favour for Gilles Groulx, the Canadian film director and friend of bassist Jimmy Garrison.

After the sessions, Groulx took the master tapes back to Canada where they remained until National Film Board of Canada uncovered them decades later when assembling the body of work by Groulx.

The music is immaculately recorded by Rudy van Gelder at his Englewood Cliff studio, and the music is as compact and pristine as one would wish for.

With two takes of Coltrane’s classic ballad ‘Naima’ and three of ‘Village Blues’ it’s a fascinating glimpse of the quartet in the studio.

You can’t help feeling there was perhaps a remit to keep the session brief – by the saxophonist’s standards at least.

At just over seven minutes, ‘Traneing In’ is the longest track but even then the music never loses focus. From Garrison’s lengthy bass intro we go straight into Tyner’s solo before the leader’s tenor dominates with his most penetrative outing on the album.

Sandwiched between such famous Coltrane recordings, the magic is very much in the fact that we are hearing this for the first time, many years later.

It’s a fascinating chance to hear this legendary quartet figuring things out in a different context from the norm; it’s a clear and concise outline of the groups progress.

Miles Davis – Rubberband (Rhino/Warner)

Recorded October 1985 – January 1986 // Released September 6, 2019

Miles Davis (trumpet, keyboards, synthesizers, bandleader) with Randy Hall (on “I Love What We Make Together”, production on 1985 sessions;) Lalah Hathaway (vocals on “So Emotional”); Ledisi  (vocals on “Rubberband of Life”); Michael Paulo (tenor, alto, flute); Mike Stern (lead guitar on “Rubberband

Of all the ‘lost’ albums, Rubberband is easily the most confusing: it comprised of an unfinished Miles Davis album, with post-production and additional vocals by Ledisi and Lalah Hathaway added later, along with sax and flute. 

Why was it unfinished? Only Miles could have answered this.

The 80s was an intense period for the trumpeter and a part of his career that has never been looked at favourably amongst the jazz fraternity.

As always, Miles was searching for a new direction and maybe he was not quite convinced he was on the right track here and simply moved on.

Whilst the addition of the vocalists fails to convince, Miles’s trumpet playing is as razor sharp as ever. ‘This Is It’ and ‘Give It Up’ have some smart arrangements and excellent trumpet playing, whilst the music from the 1985 sessions (where Miles is heard without distraction) provides much to enjoy.

Quite where this album sits in the trumpeters work of the time, and overall discography, however, is still open for debate.

Thanks for reading!

What are your favourite ‘lost sessions’ of recent years?

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