john coltrane - a love supreme

John Coltrane: A Love Supreme (1965)

Day 9 of the #mayvinylchallenge asks for multiple formats of an album. I’m only too happy to oblige with one of my favorite records of all time, A Love Supreme by John Coltrane. I went from a taped cassette to an original cassette to a CD to the complete masters on CD to vinyl, and that’s not including the multiple version I have of the album performed live in Paris, not to mention the recently unearth expanded performance in Seattle. or the t-shirts, hoodies, and books. And it’s not even my favorite John Coltrane! But I do love it unequivocally, so while I have a few minutes before my flight leaves, let’s talk about it.

Although you can take A Love Supreme as a concrete step into the spiritual matters Coltrane would chase for the rest of his career, that obsession – as well as the slow departure from the usual bop/modal/ traditional arrangements – was already underway. One of there things I find fascinating about the album is how catchy it is. Each section of the suite has something to cling to and take you, mantra like, through the incredible solos and melodic ideas each member introduces. For Part 1’s “Acknowledgement” it’s the simple melody Coltrane introduces and the band picks up on. Even ignoring the use of the melody when Coltrane through the use of multiple overdubs starts chanting “A Love Supreme” near the piece’s end, you can hear Jimmy Garrison emulating it in the bass line, McCoy Tyner accentuating it with his sharp chords, and Coltrane taking it into new shapes and forms in his solos and themes.

Right around the same time I discovered A Love Supreme I also discovered the collaborative album between Carlos Santana and Joh nMcLaughlin, and the way they play off the track on their own song “A Love Supreme” from 1973’s Love Devotion Surrender endeared me to Coltrane’s album even more.

Part 2’s “Resolution” feels much more like a rocking upbeat track, and so much of that is thanks to what might be one of the greatest combos ever put together. I already mentioned Jimmy Garrison and McCoy Tyner, but Elvin Jones is a monster of a drummer, and that is plenty evident on “Resolution”. And again, the main theme is a pure and vicious ear worm, allowing even newer jazz listeners to grab onto something and hold on for dear life.

“Pursuance” kicks off the second side of A Love Supreme and it’s just another reason Elvin Jones might be the MVP of this album. he launches into an incredible solo to start the track, followed by Coltrane introducing the main theme, a variation on the previous track. Then Tyner takes over with an extended solo, and it’s a showcase for how Tyner could inject a level of grace and beauty into almost any music regardless of its tone or intent and simply make it work. At this point going through the suite you can kind hear the way the songs build on one another. Part 1 is the soft exploration into the general theme and tone. Part 2 expands the energy, slowly throttling the engine but keeping everyone in check, even as they’re frothing to jump the fence. Part 3 feels like that explosion, with the band unfettered and open to loud expressions of joy. Even Garrison’s bas solo feel unencumbered by having to hold down the theme, as he walks the line all over the place.

By the time of Part 4’s “Psalm” we are back in the land of spirituality, having traveled and experienced all we could, Coltrane giving thanks to God by narrating through his sax a poem of love, of light. It’s a beautiful finale, a powerful statement and more than enough to adorn multiple formats, books, shirts, and posters in my house, in your house…in all our houses.

Coltrane band
Coltrane (center right) discusses a passage of A Love Supreme with producer Bob Thiele (right), saxophonist Archie Shepp (center left) and pianist McCoy Tyner. Shepp played on the alternate take of the first movement, “Acknowledgement.”

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