Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Today in Music (1964): John Coltrane recorded A Love Supreme

A Love Supreme

John Coltrane


Released: January 1965


Recorded: December 9, 1964


Peak: -- US, -- UK, -- CN, -- AU


Sales (in millions): 0.5 US


Genre: jazz


Tracks:

Song Title [time]

  1. Part 1: Acknowledgement [7:42]
  2. Part 2: Resolution [7:19]
  3. Part 3: Pursuance [10:42]
  4. Part 4: Psalm [7:02]


Total Running Time: 33:02


The Players:

  • John Coltrane (saxophone)
  • McCoy Tyner (piano)
  • Jimmy Garrison (bass)
  • Elvin Jones (drums)

Rating:

4.045 out of 5.00 (average of 24 ratings)


Quotable: “Easily one of the most important records ever made” – Jack LV Isles, All Music Guide


Awards: (Click on award to learn more).

About the Album:

John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme is “widely considered his masterpiece.” WK Jazz critic Tom Hull called it “the most perfectly plotted single piece of jazz ever recorded.” WK It is “an exemplary recording of modal jazz,” WK which focused on “modulating, or changing keys.” AK-102 “To rapidly change the harmonic base of a melody, not once, but repeatedly, is to invite an unsettling effect…[which] in the conxtext of A Love Supreme…fulfills a number of functions.” AK-102

In addition to being “one of the most acclaimed jazz records,” WK A Love Supreme is “easily one of the most important records ever made” JI in any genre. German music journalist Joachim-Ernst Berendt said “the album’s hymn-like quality permeated modern jazz and rock music.” WK Irish singer/songwriter Neil Hannon said, “Every so often this ceases to be a jazz record and is more avant-garde contemporary classical.” WK Techno-DJ Moby said it “is probably oe of the most beautiful and sublime recordings of the twentieth century.” AK-xvi

The Recording and the Quartet

The album was recorded at Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, on December 9, 1964 in a four-hour session from 8pm to midnight. Regarding the recording process, pianist McCoy Tyner said, “When we got to the studio, we liked to capture the live effect, just like we were playing live somewhere.” AK-67 To that end, producer Bob Thiele tried to stay out of the way as much as possible. Biographer Bob Golden said, “His job basically was, as decreed by Coltrane, ‘just make sure the lights are onand the tape is running.’” AK-86

The quartet, rounded out by bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones, was “at the height of its considerable individual and collective power.” WR The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide says “each man performs with eloquence and economy.” WK They “created one of the most thought-provoking, concise, and technically pleasing albums of their bountiful relationship.” JI “From the undulatory (and classic) bassline at the intro to the last breathy notes, Trane is at the peak of his logical yet emotionally varied soloing while the rest of the group is remarkably in tune with Coltrane’s spiritual vibe.” JI

Coltrane’s Development from 1949 to 1964

The album “compiled all of his innovations from his past [and] spoke of his current deep spirituality.” JI Coltrane got his first big break playing with Dizzy Gillespie, “one of the masters of modern jazz,” AK-15 from 1949 to 1951. He followed that with “one of his most fulfilling sideman roles” AK-16 alongside saxophonist Johnny Hodges. He played with trumpeter Miles Davis from 1955 to 1957 and then was fired for his heroin problem.

He then worked with pianist Thelonious Monk, during which time he recorded 1957’s Blue Trane, his “first true outing as composer and album conceptualizer.” AK-32 He returned to working with Davis and was one of the players on 1959’s A Kind of Blue, often considered the quintessential jazz album.

Two weeks after recording A Kind of Blue, Coltrane recorded Giant Steps, his first effort as bandleader for Atlantic Records. After that point, he had taken his “powerhouse ‘sheets of sound’ approach to the tenor saxophone as far as he could go.” TL In what Down Beat called a “crusade against ‘anti-jazz,’ Coltrane stopped composing....[from 1961-62] and placating his audience and the critics with such conservative releases as Ballads, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, and Duke Ellington and John Coltrane.” NO His recording of “My Favorite Things” in 1961, now considered a jazz standard, exemplified Coltrane’s approach to “simplyifying well-known songs, then opening…them up with modal sections…a device Coltrane would use often over the next few years.” AK-44

A Love Supreme is a four-movement suite which “represented a new approach – sparer, more fluid, more intense.” TL It “heralded Coltrane’s search for spiritual and musical freedom, as expressed through polyrhythms, modalities, and purely vertical forms that seemed strange to some jazz purists, but which captivated more adventurous listeners (and rock fellow travelers such as the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, and the Byrds).” AZ

Coltrane’s “Gift to God”

On a personal level, Coltrane was “studying non-Western religions and practicing meditation,” NO which culminated in 1964 with A Love Supreme and what Coltrane called “his gift to God.” RV The album “reaffirms music’s ability to embrace the spiritual” WR and “made it possible for Coltrane and others to express religious feeling in jazz.” NO One critic wrote that the album was “intended to represent a struggle for purity, an expression of gratitude, and an acknowledgement that the musician’s talent comes from a higher power.” WK

A Love Supreme is a suite about redemption, a work of pure spirit and song, that encapsulates all the struggles and aspirations of the 1960s.” AZ It “progressively describe in musical terms the course of Coltrane’s spiritual reawakening.” NO

“Acknowledgement”

“He begins his spiritual quest with Acknowledgement, a benediction of sorts” RV in which “Coltrane recognizes God’s omnipotence.” NO After the bang of a gong, Jimmy Garrison comes in with his double bass to introduce “the four-note motif that lays the foundation of the movement.” WK Coltrane solos with “variations on the motif until he repeats the four notes thirty-six times.” WK “At the end of this movement, as an expression of humility,” NO Cotrane offers up “the titular vocal chant ‘A Love Supreme,’ sung by Coltrane accompanying himself through overdubs nineteen times.” WK

“Resolution”

“Coltrane’s renewal is then tested in the second movement, Resolution,” NO “an amazingly beautiful piece about the fury of dedication to a new path of understanding.” JI “He conveys here a sense of struggle by juxtaposing rising improvised chromatic lines with the insistently descending lines of the theme.” NO

“Pursuance”

Pursuance is a search for that understanding” JI in which “Coltrane depicts his triumph over adversity through use of rapid tempo, truncated phrases, and consistently rising lines.” NO

“Psalm”

“The culmination of his saxophonic sermon” RV comes in the “beckoning serenity in the prayer-like drones of Psalm.” AZ This piece “is the enlightenment,” JI “Coltrane’s concluding song of thanks.” NO “Jones rolls and rumbles like thunder as Garrison and Tyner toll away suggestively.” AZ Coltrane performs what he called a “musical narration” WK and what jazz pianist, composer, and author Lewis Porter called a “wordless recitation” WK “in which Coltrane “plays’ the words of the poem on saxophone but doesn’t speak them.” WK

This is Coltrane’s best “attempt at the realization of concept – as the spiritual journey is made amazingly clear.” JI “Coltrane plays like no saxophonist before him, his instrument becoming a spirit-lifting vessel of permeating beauty.” RVA Love Supreme remains one of the music’s most personal experiences. It is Coltrane opening his soul and laying it bare.” WR “It is almost impossible to imagine a world without A Love Supreme having been made, and it is equally impossible to imagine any jazz collection without it.” JI


Notes: “The 2002 deluxe reissue includes the only live performance of the suite,” TL taken from “a July 26, 1965 appearance at the Antibes Jazz Festival in France.” AH Also included is additional “studio material from December 1964, including alternate takes of ‘Resolution’ and ‘Acknowledgment’.” AH

A 2015 three-disc reissue of the album includes recordings from December 10, 1965, in which tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp and bassist Art Davis played as well.

Resources and Related Links:

  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for John Coltrane
  • JI All Music Guide review by Jack LV Isles
  • AH All Music Guide (deluxe edition), review by Alex Henderson
  • AZ Amazon.com review by Chip Stern
  • AK Ashley Kahn (2002). A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album. Penguin Books: London, England.
  • NO The Night Owl review by David Tegnell
  • RV The Review (October – November 2001; Vol. 128: numbers 12-23). “100 Greatest Albums of All Time” by Clarke Speicher
  • TL Time Magazine (11/13/2006). “All-TIME 100 Albums” by Josh Tyrangiel and Alan Light
  • WK Wikipedia
  • WR The Wire (June 1992: #100). “The 100 Most Important Records Ever Made” by Philip Watson

First posted 12/9/2011; last updated 6/14/2021.

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