JOHN COLTRANE — A Love Supreme

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JOHN COLTRANE - A Love Supreme cover
4.84 | 103 ratings | 6 reviews
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Album · 1965

Filed under Post Bop


A1 Part I - Acknowledgement 7:39
A2 Part II - Resolution 7:15
B Part III - Persuance / Part IV - Psalm 17:40

Total Time: 33:03


John Coltrane – vocals and tenor saxophone
Jimmy Garrison – double bass
Elvin Jones – drums
McCoy Tyner – piano

About this release

Impulse! A-77 (US)

Recorded: December 9, 1964, Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, United States

Thanks to snobb, Abraxas, JS, dreadpirateroberts for the updates


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In my own experience, I have never known an album to have as much replay value as this one. I know that this experience isn't exclusive to myself and I believe that that can be attributed to the true genius of this album.

Not only is Trane at his best during this session, but this album is a high point for McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison. The classic quartet never sounds better than on these four tracks.

Jimmy Cobb said that Kind of Blue must have been made in heaven. If that's true, then A Love Supreme must have been made somewhere beyond that.
The debate about which jazz album is the greatest ever will never end as long as aficionados of the genre are allowed to voice their individual opinions on the matter. And voice them we do. But when it comes to addressing the issue of which recordings have had the most influence on the world of music at large there’s no argument that John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” may have peers but no superiors. I’ve come across references to it all my life in interview quotes gleaned from artists in popular groups as diverse as U2, The Grateful Dead, The Byrds and The Allman Brothers just to mention a handful. In the jazz realm it would be extraordinary to find a musician who hasn’t been affected by this album to some extent. And with good reason. It is sublime and transcendent in ways that few others are and listening to it draws us upward onto a plane wholly different from the one we all trudge through day by day. It is a spiritual album like none other yet it never preaches and is completely devoid of condescension. If you have the desire to go to church but don’t want to sit through a sermon then this disc will transport you to the higher level you seek via the miracle of inspired music alone. Coltrane’s aim in making this record was to create pieces of music that would lift souls closer to God, a goal he successfully achieved in spectacular fashion.

As John himself explained, “During the year 1957 I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life.” His biography shows that he made some ill-advised detours off the path to enlightenment following that epiphany but that the Almighty repeatedly led him out of his personal darkness and restored his faith. Some seven years later, on December 9, 1964, Coltrane would finally record (with his gifted trio of associates) and preserve forevermore this revered four-part offering of heartfelt thanks and worship to the Creator who saved him from himself. And, in the process, he changed the course of music history.

Part 1 – Acknowledgement: John’s saxophone blast and drummer Elvin Jones’ smash on a gong herald a glorious sunrise of majestic yellows and gold inside your psyche. Soon Jimmy Garrison’s upright bass initiates the throbbing, rhythmic groove that will guide the quartet to an isolated plateau where they can work their inimitable magic together. Elvin’s drums are adventurous but he never veers away from the foundational beat and John’s playing is in another dimension that must be heard to be fathomed. The great McCoy Tyner on piano displays immaculate taste and consummate gracefulness while Jimmy’s bass solo is subdued but profound. ‘Trane lovingly chants the album’s title without pretense in the midst of this elegant number.

Part 2 – Resolution: John suddenly bursts in, dissolving the hypnotic state they established previously and the combo embarks on a tune that possesses a powerful swing feel. Coltrane’s sax rejoices and Tyner’s piano ride is magnetically attractive on a cosmic level while Jones seems to be reading his mind, transferring neural impulses directly to the surfaces of his drum kit. John’s performance in the second segment is so stream-of-consciousness in nature and so intensely personal that I can only witness it in a state of abject amazement. Discounting the central melody, he never comes close to entertaining the same riff twice.

Part 3 – Pursuance: This number opens with a solo from Elvin that showcases the classy, well-practiced techniques that can turn snares, toms and cymbals into legitimate musical instruments. A more up-tempo pace ensues and Coltrane gets the ball rolling before stepping aside to let McCoy absolutely dazzle on his piano while the exquisite rhythm section stupefies with their incredible tightness. The expressive ride that John delivers next defies literary description so I won’t even try. Better yet, I’ll just say “WOW!” and leave it at that. The controlled ferocity the quartet exudes here is off the charts. Jones turns in a fierce display of his God-given ability before Garrison calms the atmosphere with his firmly-grounded solo that provides a gentle segue into the final movement.

Part 4 – Psalm: They end with an ethereal, arrhythmic and beautifully abstract tune in which it’s obvious that the group is locked in complete mental harmony with each other, moving in unison like a cumulous cloud drifting over endless plains ripe for harvesting. Here John plays with the exuberant passion of a south Dallas Baptist church service on Easter morning and I’m helpless to do anything but sit back, relax and allow his pure, unadulterated emotion to pour out from my stereo speakers directly into my hungry, receptive soul. Hallelujah.

Coltrane usually preferred to tape no more than two titles per session but for “A Love Supreme” he recorded the full suite in one night. Another interesting fact is that ‘Trane’s phrasing on “Psalm” follows, in exact cadence, the words of the poem of praise unto God he’d penned to coincide with the music and that he had printed on the LP’s cover. The album’s timing couldn’t have been more serendipitous because, when it was released in early ’65, the first rays of promising light were dawning on the age of change for the baby boomer generation that was just starting to embrace without restraint a more spiritual attitude. The 2003 reissued CD’s notes read “Within months, from college dorms and ghetto apartments; on jazz radio and underground FM stations alike, the album began to emerge as Coltrane’s career-defining, genre-defying classic.” I venture to add that it also helped tilt the earth’s axis toward the heavenly sunshine. John himself describes the record best in an excerpt from his poem, “A Love Supreme”: “ELATION – ELEGANCE – EXALTATION, all from God, thank you God. Amen.”
Part astounding, part disconcerting, part hypnotic - what more could you ask from music?

Sometimes talking about music seems futile, that words are simply not enough to describe what we hear. Without mythologising this record, I think it's difficult to describe. Not to say that certain genres or styles aren't applicable to 'A Love Supreme' (as post and hard bop, and free jazz spring to mind) but the biography of this album strikes me as its own entity. It has a long critical history, which includes in-depth discussions of the music and techniques, along with its purpose. Why did John Coltrane make this album? What is most fascinating about the question is probably the variations that exist between what we as listeners take from the album, and what Coltrane wanted us to take.

Listen to this cold, and you will doubtless hear those three genres, along with Coltrane's trademark abstract and dissonant soloing, and his grasp of melody. You will also hear a band deeply in sync with him and each other, where Tyner, Jones and Garrison are each given room to solo, while at the same time holding together a suite around an instantly recognisable, often mantra-like theme, one that is developed across four parts and around 30 minutes.

Listen to this with some prior knowledge, perhaps after reading about what Coltrane was attempting to do by creating the album and it's a different record again. Additional layers of meaning are given to notes, phrases and moods that before were more abstract - the way a spiritual journey is abstract. Is 'A Love Supreme' a better album if you know what Coltrane was attempting to do? Or maybe it's worth asking if the notes themselves change? No. It is the same physical moment that has been captured.

But something does change if you treat the album like a piece of biography, rather than a collection of musical pieces. We link the sounds to words. We imagine words, ideas and concepts behind the sounds, and because we think in words (not notes) we can expand what the music means to us. Or what we think it meant to Coltrane. And so in 'Pursuance' for instance, I can really imagine that John is striving for something beyond his self, that he's pushing for that something with his hurricane of tortured notes.

Now, I'm not claiming this is the only album where this kind of analysis is possible (nor am I offering an argument as to whether this kind of analysis is even desirable) but I will say that this is probably the record from John Coltrane where it is most rewarding for me to do so. Four stars.

Members reviews

If there was such a thing as a Jazz "concept album" as in progressive rock, it would be this album. It really doesn't have the feel of a normal jazz album that has separate tracks with the intro-head-solo-head format. Rather, each track seems to flow into one another like the album is one brilliant composition, having powerful changes in dynamics and emotions. The two tracks "Resolution" and "Pursuance" actually begin with solos.

The drumming sounds great. Rather than just laying down rhythms all the time, Elvin Jones uses his cymbals and drums to create textures. This is the most evident in "Psalm", which is free and rubato. "Pursuance" begins with an excellent drum solo as well. The piano playing sounds great as well. McCoy Tyner plays solos in "Resolution" and "Pursuance" which both are possibly McCoy Tyner at his best. John Coltrane's solos, like usual, are full of all kinds of creative note combinations and build in energy.

I would greatly recommend listening to this album if you haven't already.
There's no denying that in John Coltrane jazz possessed an incredible talent. Musicians can spend years and years trying to carve an album as perfect as A Love Supreme; Coltrane and three sidemen knocked it out in a day. Years ahead of his time, Coltrane here offers an album-length composition in which he explores his spirituality through a combination of drifting but not entirely free playing coupled with some glorious post-bop soloing. Although it's not a fusion album, various fusion luminaries such as John McLaughlin or Carlos Santana have paid tribute to it over the years, and in some respects I can sort of see it as a precursor to Miles Davis' In a Silent Way - both albums leave you adrift in a sea of music and show a complete ability to tune the listener in to the emotional space required to best appreciate them. It's avant-garde material, but it's avant-garde which wants to be understood and is more than happy to guide the listener into a place where they are in rapport with it.

"A Love Supreme" is one of the most influential and important jazz albums ever.

This album has been praised over and over and over. It is considered by many to be Coltrane’s magnum opus and one of the most influential and important jazz albums ever. Who am I to give once again infinite gratitude to John, for giving music like this, but, for the sake of it, I’ll review it and make this a more personal review possible.

For the people who don’t know John Coltrane (hopefully not many), he was a saxophonist that has been considered one of the best jazz musicians. In his first period he was more into the Hard Bop genre, after a while he started getting a little more Avant-Garde, so the music was a lot more free and improvised thanks to the use of musical modes (also called modal jazz). “A Love Supreme” stands right in the middle of these two eras. However the album has many Post Bop influences too, so it is a little hard to give this only one label. Despite the album clocks around thirty minutes in length, the four tracks here have a very extended structure, on which Coltrane and the soloists lay some of the best and warmest sounds ever to be created. The textures are as well warm and have a very intense and spiritual feeling to them, just like John intended. Coltrane in fact was a very spiritual man, and “A Love Supreme” is a sort of concept album dedicated to God in all his power and generosity. But there is some very noticeable apocalyptic and sometimes tribal feel, (thanks to the percussion or the vocals on “Acknowledgement”) which makes this album a lot more Avant-Garde influenced.

If I had to pick one thing I love the most about this album, it has got to be the solos. Not only Coltrane, but also the pianist, McCoy Tyner, even the drummer Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison on the double bass. Every single solo from every single member, despite being improvised most of the time, is perfect and flawless, and delivers a spiritual and intense experience to the listener. Other than the solos, the melodies are memorable as well (here the Post Bop influence is most noticeable), whenever there is just a bit of melody.

The album is structured in four parts; in some versions there are divided in four songs, in others three (the last two parts united in one song). “Acknowledgement” is probably one of the most famous Coltrane pieces, if not the most famous. I have never felt seven minutes pass so quickly for a song. A track to die for, and a must listen for anyone who wants to get into jazz. “Resolution” is less warm but the melody is just wonderful, and then the solos are just perfect. Another flawless track. For the second part of the album, Coltrane wrote a religious poem and used music to express it, instead of the words. “Pursuance” is the longest piece (10 minutes), and it has the most amazing piano solo, it completely blew me away. The track contains a lot of drum soloing moments, especially and almost exclusively in the first part of the song. A bass solo is put in the last part of the track as well. There are, in fact, so many solos that there isn’t much room for any kind of melody. “Psalm” is less enlivened, more chilled, but also more melancholic. The melody is very sensual, but also rigorous and severe, as it wasn’t written for seducing but for getting closer to God. It has that apocalyptic feel thanks to the tom percussion, so it is probably the most tense song off the album. So this magnum opus ends, of course, amazingly.

One of my favorite jazz album of all time, and if you’re unfamiliar with the genre and you want to explore and discover it a bit more, this is one of the places you should start from.

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