John Coltrane: A Love Supreme

A Love Supreme has always been John Coltrane’s most popular album, occupying a special place in listener’s hearts almost since the day it was released. Thus it should come as no surprise that this legendary album achieved Gold status according to the Recording Industry Association of America. This is the first Coltrane recording to receive this honor, and it speaks well of the lasting influence of Coltrane and his music on a whole new generation of listeners.

A Love Supreme was the culmination of a period of restlessness and searching for Coltrane, both in his personal and professional lives. Following his release from the Miles Davis Quintet in 1956, Coltrane experienced a period of depression, followed by what he called “a spiritual awakening”. Following intense meditation and prayer, Coltrane gave up drinking, smoking, and his destructive drug habit. By the spring of 1957, Coltrane was back in form and worked briefly with Thelonius Monk, a period that he later stated influenced him greatly. When he returned to playing with Miles on the classic Kind of Blue album he was already previewing the modal jazz that would become his predominant style, as well as the famous “sheets of sound” which he unleashed on his own recording My Favorite Things.

During the seven-year period from 1957 to 1964, Coltrane began to become interested in nonwestern music and philosophy. He explored West African music as well as the music of India. Though he had considered himself a Christian all his life, he began to read books about Hinduism, Islam, science, astrology, yoga, and African history.

He began to have dreams in which he believed that God revealed various musical works and concepts to him. In the winter of 1964, A Love Supreme was revealed to Coltrane, in its entirety, through such a dream. He and his quartet recorded the work in December of 1964 in the same order that the tracks are programmed on the recording.

The suite begins with “Acknowledgment”–after a brief invocation Garrison’s bass begins the “Love Supreme” figure, followed by Coltrane’s declamatory statements which seem to offer a sermon. His playing is incredibly confident and robust, offering the kind of bold and powerful statement not heard since Louis Armstrong’s early recordings. He develops the material rhythmically and moves a series of notes through a modular cycle or repetition, punctuating it with excursions into the altissimo range, finally bursting into a climax of ecstatic celebration. This is followed with the intonation of the mantra, “A Love Supreme”, first on tenor sax, then finally as a vocal chant.

“Resolution” begins with Coltrane’s introduction of the theme, followed by a series of variations that develop in a manner that has more in common with the Indian raga than with the traditional jazz solo development. McCoy Tyner plays an extended and explosive solo that demonstrates his sheer energy and harmonic concentration, not to mention the way he clearly influenced many jazz pianists at the time and afterward. Jones is in high gear also, kicking both Tyner and Coltrane along with constant explosions and commentary. Coltrane returns for another solo before restating the theme and bringing the section to its conclusion.

The final sections, “Pursuance” and “Psalm” are presented without interruption. “Pursuance” begins with a drum solo from Jones that constantly shifts pulse and rhythm. All of the quartet members solo, each one testifying fiercely personal statements of faith and spiritual searching. Garrison finishes the section out with his solo before the majestic “Psalm” begins with Coltrane playing the words to his poem “A Love Supreme” (which are found on the album sleeve) on his saxophone. The piece is a moving statement, as is Coltrane’s instrumental representation of the words he had written

The 2CD deluxe edition includes a live rendition of the complete suite as well as several outtakes that give insight into the recording of this masterpiece. In addition, it has been remastered.

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