0053. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme [1965]

John_Coltrane_-_A_Love_Supreme

As much jazz as I hear and love, I still can’t really describe what makes album x better than album y in an artist’s repertoire.  I can’t describe what sets artist x apart from artist y aside from the instruments they played.  I can’t tell you what sets style x apart from style y, but I can tell you what I like.  I like this.  I like John Coltrane, and I’ve liked everything I’ve heard thus far.  I have nothing bad to say about this album, this style of music, this artist, and I highly recommend it all to any of you out there who might be reading this.

Wikipedia Says:

A Love Supreme is a studio album recorded by John Coltrane‘s quartet in December 1964[1] and released by Impulse! Records in February 1965. It is generally considered to be among Coltrane’s greatest works, as it melded the hard bop sensibilities of his early career with the modal jazz and free jazz styles he adopted later.

The quartet recorded the album in one session on December 9, 1964, at the Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Coltrane’s home in Dix Hills, Long Island, has been suggested as the site of inspiration for A Love Supreme.[2] Coltrane’s exposure to Ahmadiyya Islam has also been suggested as a source of influence.[3]

Music[edit]

Elvin Jones in a black suit performing behind a drum kit

Coltrane’s classic quartet was completed with the addition of percussionist Elvin Jones, who performs various non-traditional instruments on A Love Supreme

The album is a four-part suite, broken up into tracks: “Acknowledgement” (which contains the mantra that gave the suite its name), “Resolution”, “Pursuance”, and “Psalm.” It is intended to be a spiritual album, broadly representative of a personal struggle for purity, and expresses the artist’s deep gratitude as he admits to his talent and instrument as being owned not by him but by a spiritual higher power.[2] Coltrane plays exclusively tenor on all parts.

The album begins with the bang of a gong (tam-tam), followed by cymbal washes. Jimmy Garrison follows on bass with the four-note motif which structures the entire movement. Coltrane’s solo follows. Besides soloing upon variations of the motif, at one point Coltrane repeats the four notes over and over in different modulations. After many repetitions, the motif becomes the vocal chant “A Love Supreme”, sung by Coltrane (accompanying himself via overdubs).[4]

In the final movement, Coltrane performs what he calls a “musical narration” (Lewis Porter describes it as a “wordless ‘recitation'”)[5] of a devotional poem he included in the liner notes. That is, Coltrane “plays” the words of the poem on saxophone, but does not actually speak them. Some scholars have suggested that this performance is a homage to the sermons of African-American preachers.[6] The poem (and, in his own way, Coltrane’s solo) ends with the cry “Elation. Elegance. Exaltation. All from God. Thank you God. Amen.”[7]

Reception and influence[edit]

Original issue
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars[8]
All About Jazz favorable[9]
Down Beat 5/5 stars[10]
Q 5/5 stars[11]
Rolling Stone 5/5 stars[12]
Deluxe edition
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars[13]
Mojo favorable[14]
Rolling Stone 5/5 stars[15]
The Sydney Morning Herald favorable[16]
Uncut 4/5 stars[17]
The Village Voice favorable[18]
The Wire favorable[19]

A Love Supreme is often listed amongst the greatest jazz albums of all time.[20][21][22][23][24] It was also quite popular for a jazz album, selling about 500,000 copies by 1970, a number far exceeding Coltrane’s typical Impulse! sales of around 30,000.[25] As further testimony to the recording’s historic significance, the manuscript for the album is one of the National Museum of American History‘s “Treasures of American History,” part of the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.[26]

In 1994, A Love Supreme was ranked number three in Colin Larkin‘s Top 100 Jazz Albums. Larkin described it as “one of the most profoundly moving records in all of jazz”.[27] In 2003, the album was ranked number 47 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[28] The publication called it a “legendary album-long hymn of praise” and stated: “the indelible four-note theme of the first movement, ‘Acknowledgement,’ is the humble foundation of the suite. But Coltrane’s majestic, often violent blowing (famously described as ‘sheets of sound’) is never self-aggrandizing. Aloft with his classic quartet…, Coltrane soars with nothing but gratitude and joy. You can’t help but go with him.”[28]

The Penguin Guide to Jazz selected this album as part of its suggested “Core Collection” and awarded it a “crown” stating that “it is without precedent and parallel, and though it must also be one of the best loved jazz records of all time it somehow remains remote from critical pigeonholing” calling it “immensely concentrated and rich.”[29]

The album’s influence has been extensive and diverse. Musicians ranging from tenor Joshua Redman[30] to the rock star Bono of U2, who mentions the album in their song “Angel of Harlem“,[31] have singled out the influence of the album on their own work. Guitarists John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana have each credited the album as one of their greatest early influences.[32] “Every so often this ceases to be a jazz record and is more avant-garde contemporary classical,” remarked Neil Hannon, frontman of The Divine Comedy. “I love the combination of abstract piano that’s all sort of ‘clang’, and weird chords with wailing saxophone over the top.”[33]

Other performances[edit]

Archie Shepp on stage in a suit playing saxophone

Archie Shepp, who played on the sextet versions of “Acknowledgement”.

An alternative version of “Acknowledgement” was recorded the next day on December 10. This version, which included tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp and bassist Art Davis, did not feature Coltrane chanting “a love supreme”, one reason he chose to issue the quartet version.[34]

The only live performance of the “Love Supreme” suite, from a July 26, 1965, performance at the Festival Mondial du Jazz Antibes, Juan-les-Pins, France, was also remastered and released in a 2002 two-CD set by Impulse! Records with the original album and additional studio outtakes.

Adaptations[edit]

Handwritten sheet music by Coltrane, with notes surrounding it

Coltrane’s original handwritten sheet music for A Love Supremeincludes a note reading “All paths lead to God”

Doug and Jean Carn recorded “Acknowledgement” with female vocals for their 1972 album Infant Eyes. John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana recorded a guitar version of “Acknowledgement,” which they titled “A Love Supreme” on their 1973 collaboration Love Devotion Surrender. At the time, both were devotees of guru Sri Chinmoy.

Will Downing released an R&B cover version of the main theme, with the co-operation of John’s widow Alice Coltrane, which reached number fourteen in the UK singles chart in 1988. Gumball recorded a rock/alternative/jazz version[clarification needed] of A Love Supreme as a bonus track on the 1994 Japanese release of Revolution On Ice. The suite has also been recorded several times by Branford Marsalis. It forms a track on the bonus CD for the 1994 compilation album Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool, four tracks on the 2002 Branford Marsalis Quartet album titled Footsteps of Our Fathers, and on the DVD “A Love Supreme Live in Amsterdam.” Branford’s brotherWynton recorded the suite in 2003 with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.[35]

Sections of the suite have been performed by the David Murray Octet,[36] the Ballistic Brothers,[37] and the Bob Mintzer Big Band.[38] Turtle Island String Quartet released their album A Love Supreme in 2007, and the album features a cover version of the suite, along with other covers of various Coltrane charts.

A 1995 album titled Variations on A Love Supreme was composed by Fabrizio Cassol and Kris Defoort.

In 2007 José James recorded “Equinox” and “Resolution”‘ as a double A-Side limited-edition 10” for Brownswood Records. James, previously a rapper, added vocals to the tracks in a style reminiscent to some[according to whom?]of Gil Scott Heron.

Jazz singer Kurt Elling recorded “Resolution” for his album Man in the Air. In this recording, Elling set lyrics to the music in his style of vocalese.

Track listing[edit]

All tracks composed by John Coltrane and published by Jowcol Music (BMI)

Side one
No. Recorded Take number Title Length
1. December 9, 1964 90243 Part 1: “Acknowledgement” 7:47
2. December 9, 1964 90244‒7 Part 2: “Resolution” 7:22
Side two
No. Recorded Take number Title Length
3. December 9, 1964 90245‒1 Part 3: “Pursuance”/Part 4: “Psalm” 17:53

Deluxe edition[edit]

Disc one
No. Recorded Take number Title Length
1. December 9, 1964 90243 Part 1: “Acknowledgement” 7:43
2. December 9, 1964 90244‒7 Part 2: “Resolution” 7:20
3. December 9, 1964 90245‒1 Part 3: “Pursuance” 10:42
4. December 9, 1964 90245‒1 Part 4: “Psalm” 7:05
Disc two
No. Recorded Take number Title Length
1. July 26, 1965 n/a Introduction by Andre Francis 1:13
2. July 26, 1965 n/a “Acknowledgement” (Live) 6:11
3. July 26, 1965 n/a “Resolution” (Live) 11:36
4. July 26, 1965 n/a “Pursuance” (Live) 21:30
5. July 26, 1965 n/a “Psalm” (Live) 8:49
6. December 9, 1964 90244‒4 “Resolution” (Alternate take) 7:25
7. December 9, 1964 90244‒6 “Resolution” (Breakdown) 2:13
8. December 10, 1964 90246‒1 “Acknowledgement” (Alternate take) 9:09
9. December 10, 1964 90246‒2 “Acknowledgement” (Alternate take) 9:22

Personnel[edit]

Close-up, worms eye-view of McCoy Tyner at a piano, backlit

McCoy Tyner played piano throughout both sessions for A Love Supreme

The John Coltrane Quartet
Additional musicians
  • Art Davis – double bass on alternate takes of “Acknowledgement”
  • Archie Shepp – tenor saxophone on alternate takes of “Acknowledgement”
Production
Compact Disc reissue
  • Joe Alper – photography
  • Jason Claiborne – graphics
  • Hollis King – art direction
  • Erick Labson – digital remastering
  • Lee Tanner – photography
Deluxe edition
  • Michael Cuscuna – liner notes, production, and remastering
  • Ken Druker – production
  • Esmond Edwards – photography
  • Ashley Kahn – liner notes and production
  • Peter Keepnews – notes editing
  • Hollis King – art direction
  • Bryan Koniarz – production
  • Edward O’Dowd – design
  • Mark Smith – production assistance
  • Sherniece Smith – art coordination and production
  • Chuck Stewart – photography
SACD
  • Bill Levenson – reissue supervisor
  • Cameron Mizell – production coordination
  • Kevin Reeves – mastering
  • Ron Warwell – design
  • Isabelle Wong – package design
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