The quartet went into Rudy Van Gelder's studio on April 27, 1964, and performed all five of the songs on this album as well as a short version of "Song of Praise"—which was recut in May 1965 and compiled on The John Coltrane Quartet Plays. They returned to the studio on June 1, 1964, and recorded versions of the title track and "Bessie's Blues", which ended up on the album. The three rejected recordings from April 27 are compiled on The Classic Quartet: The Complete Impulse! Recordings.
The music represents Coltrane's return to meticulous form and structure, and post-bop modality, after several years of free-form experimentation alternating with traditional balladeering. The album's closing track is an improvisational feature for Jones' drums (with spare melodic accompaniment from Coltrane's tenor sax and Garrison's bass at the song's beginning and end): Coltrane would continue to explore drum/saxophone conversations both in live performances with this group and on subsequent recordings such as the posthumously released Interstellar Space (with Rashied Ali). Furthermore, Coltrane does not solo at all on side two of the original LP; the ballad "Lonnie's Lament" instead features a long bass solo by Garrison.
The album's liner notes are written by Nat Hentoff, and the original LP's inner gatefold profile photograph of Coltrane was also featured on the cover of Coltrane's next Impulse! album release, A Love Supreme.