A Love Supreme (Impulse! 155)
In terms of recorded output, John Coltrane is one of the oddest musicians ever, as he does not really have a clear "starting point" for someone wanting to experience his music. He made equally great albums in several different periods which sound almost nothing like each other. Which do you pick first? Blue Train is pristine, My Favorite Things is catchy, Sun Ship is blistering, Stellar Regions is extremely deep.
I made the mistake of starting with Interstellar Space, Coltrane's duet album with drummer Rashied Ali, an album I appreciate now but definitely one of his noisiest "out-there" albums. More and more I turn to A Love Supreme as the point of entry into Coltrane, even though it's not as user-friendly as some of the albums that preceded it. It is very much a "line drawn in the sand" sort of album, a milestone for both the artist and jazz itself an album that continues to divide people on its merits almost 35 years after it was released.
A Love Supreme is an album that marked the beginning of the "new" Coltrane, the album where Coltrane's spirituality and musicality coalesced and defined his new path. It is the beginning of a quest that had its roots in bebop and its fruition in "New Thing" offerings like Pharaoh Sanders' Karma.
It exists quite apart from other music, even apart from Coltrane's own output before and after. There is nothing quite like A Love Supreme, and for its depth and beauty I consider it to be Coltrane's finest album. As radical now as when it was released in 1965, it is an intensely personal, deeply spiritual album that elevates conventional jazz to an entirely new level. Simply put, it's one of the best.
Okay, now that I'm finished spewing my ejaculate of praise all over the place, on to the music. Conceived as a continuous suite of four parts ("Acknowledgement," "Resolution," "Pursuance," and "Psalm"), A Love Supreme is a "humble offering to God" and a "way of saying THANK YOU GOD" to quote Coltrane's liner notes. I wonder what God made of it. I guess it depends on whether God turned out to be more along the lines of the mean-spirited Burl Ives sort of fellow or the super-fly John Amos sort of fellow.
The white God probably would have been a bit confused, if ultimately pleased by the album, while the black God would undoubtedly have recognized it as a truly supreme offering. Clocking in at 33 minutes, it's a short album (included in its entirety on the Classic Quartet box set) recorded in a single session, but it packs a major amount of bliss into its given time. This is bliss of a different sort from Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" or Bach's B-Minor Mass, but it is no less spiritual or important, and I would rank it right up there as one of the greatest compositional achievements ever.
Certainly jazz has produced many masterpieces, but few albums that can be considered on such a level of perfection as art. Kind of Blue is a great album, but A Love Supreme is something other than an album; it almost doesn't make sense to compare the two, actually. After they parted ways, Miles and Coltrane were on two very different avenues.
From the opening seconds, which call to mind either a thoroughly serious sacrificial rite or a genie appearing from a bottle (hm, that sounded a bit less impressive than I meant it), through the chanting of "Acknowledgement" and onto the hugely intense playing of "Resolution" and "Pursuance" everybody playing full blast, but all listening deeply through to the majesty of the final movement this is music without irony, and that's just one more reason to like it.
The playing throughout is uniformly excellent, very grandiose yet earthy and grounded in Coltrane's religious awakening. You know, I'd love to hear a tape of Coltrane telling a really funny joke, now that I think about it the guy didn't seem to have very much of a sense of humor. Yet he's one of the few artists whose seriousness is so awe-inspiring that you forget about humor entirely and bow down before his God (whoever that is). See, even trying to crack jokes in a review about Coltrane is almost impossible. Tough crowd!
This album is the crossroads for Coltrane, and for his quartet, which would have less than a year together after this album was recorded before Coltrane's path took him elsewhere. The music he would make afterward would continue his exploration, and the music he made before it is left to history as documentation of how he got to A Love Supreme.
For me, it all revolves around this album. I can't imagine anyone creating a work as powerful and beautiful, one that so immediately connects the listener to what Coltrane was trying to do. It's an awesome experience. Wynton Marsalis can make all the three-CD sets he wants, he'll never touch A Love Supreme. There will never be another Coltrane, or another album as fresh and individualistic as this one.
It's not always pretty, but A Love Supreme rewards richly. Majestic music, perfectly played. Don't let them tell you otherwise, they're a bunch of sick freaks.
Review by Ian Pampon