To be reviewing this album actually seems superfluous. It has been reviewed and lauded so many times before. However…
All that said, I’m guessing that there will be music-lovers reading this that have never really dipped their toes into the insular, sometimes inaccessible world of jazz. My hope is that by reading this review some new to the genre may just give this incredibly influential album a spin or a ‘stream’.
A Love Supreme review.
Ironically, John Coltrane – A Love Supreme might not be the best starting point for virgin jazz ears. It’s not a difficult listen by any means, but it is a work that the listener almost needs to submerge themselves into get the whole picture. Coltrane’s period after this release and until his death became increasingly abstract as he delved into the ‘free jazz’ movement.
Whatever the case, A Love Supreme is a high watermark in the jazz world and as far as this writer is concerned, the best of John Coltrane and maybe, the most important jazz album ever made.
Coltrane. A quick background.
In 1957 John Coltrane, whilst being a key member of the famous Miles Davis quintet, was so unreliable due to his drinking and heroin abuse, that he was sacked by his employer. There are also reports that Coltrane had a near death overdose at this time. ‘Trane’ made the resolution then to clean up his act. In striving to cleanse himself he also began a journey of ever-increasing spirituality and a search for a higher truth.
He formed his famous quartet in 1962, with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones. They made a series of great albums and live concert performances up until December 1964 when they entered the studio to record A Love Supreme.
A Love Supreme. Four parts of jazz perfection.
Recorded in one sitting, the album consists of a single song ‘suite’ of 4 parts – “Acknowledgment”, “Resolution”, “Pursuance”, and “Psalm”.
“Acknowledgment” opens as a warm up with Tyner and Coltrane limbering up under a flurry of cymbal work from Elvin Jones….then out of the milieu, comes the four note bass line that is the basis of the entire suite including the spoken mantra at the end of the first part that gives this work its name. This is the most structured part, with Coltrane’s playing remaining tempered throughout.
On the subsequent parts, his blowing can become violent at times. The final part, “Psalm” is actually the musical accompaniment to the poem that Coltrane had written and appears in the liner notes, with each note of the piece matching a syllable from the poem.
Even though the poem itself is not spoken on the album. There is an absolute calmness at the end of this that leaves the listener feeling exalted and knowing that they have reached their destination.
“the best of John Coltrane and maybe, the most important jazz album ever made.”
The playing by all musicians on the album is extraordinary. Everyone has an absolute chance to shine on their own. Drum aficionados will be thrilled by the work of Jones. The bass playing from Garrison is prominent throughout and is the bedrock on which the other players can solo. McCoy Tyner’s piano work is exhilarating at times. And of course, Trane’s alto sax playing is both equally reserved and unhinged!!
A Love Supreme is the link point between Coltrane’s hard bop past and his modal and free jazz explorations that he was to pursue fervently until his ultimate demise in 1967.
At just under 33 minutes in length, it is a triumph and a giant in the pantheon of popular music. Released in early 1965, the album is now 50 years old, but remains entirely fresh.
Hopefully this ‘A Love Supreme review’ has piqued your musical interest. If you have a quiet moment tonight, pour yourself a large glass of red, light a few candles and pop it on. Let ‘Trane’ take you somewhere else.….you’ll thank me in the morning.