JOHN COLTRANE — A Love Supreme (review)

JOHN COLTRANE — A Love Supreme album cover Album · 1965 · Post Bop Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
dreadpirateroberts
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.
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