John Coltrane, A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters (Impulse!)
John Coltrane (1926-1967), was already a musician of major standing and influence when he recorded A Love Supreme on December 9, 1964. In the less than three years of life remaining to him, the album became a watershed in the development of jazz. It made Coltrane a secular saint not only of the music but also of a troubled generation wandering in the spiritual wasteland of the Viet Nam and civil rights era. As a living Coltrane legacy, A Love Supreme’s effect on succeeding jazz by instrumentalists and vocalists has continued to grow. The titles of the piece’s sections are indications of the depth of the saxophonist’s metaphysical transformation in 1957 from post-bebop striver with drug and alcohol problems into a seeker of peace and enlightenment through creative expression, religion and mysticism. The titles are “Acknowledgement,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance” and “Psalm.”
The super deluxe edition of the latest reissue of A Love Supreme puts in clear perspective Coltrane’s and his quartet’s achievement. Its three compact discs include the original release plus revisions that amount to Coltrane’s afterthoughts about the music— afterthoughts that he abandoned in favor of the purity and passion of the original recording. Coltrane, pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones had a burst of inspired music making in the December 9 session. The next day, Coltrane brought in tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp and bassist Art Davis to join the quartet in new runs at some of the music. The four alternate takes, a false start and a breakdown take of “Acknowledgement” have moments of interest, some produced by Shepp’s raw energy and his interaction with Coltrane. However, hearing the collective approach using two saxophones and two basses leaves no doubt about the wisdom of Coltrane, producer Bob Thiele and engineer Rudy Van Gelder staying with the original quartet plan for the issued album. The new album also includes monaural reference tapes of “Pursuance” and “Psalm” that add nothing to understanding of the primary material. In another take, Coltrane’s inclusion of his alto saxophone for a second horn part in “Psalm” proves pointless, although the take catches Elvin Jones unleashing a magnificent peal of thunder on what sounds like kettle drums.
By the time of the Antibes Jazz Festival in mid-1965, A Love Supreme was years from general recognition as a masteripiece. A French musician and record company executive, Jeff Gilson, had heard an advance copy and asked Coltrane to play the piece. Radio France broadcast the concert and recorded it. The third disc of this set is that performance of all four parts believed to be the only time the quartet played it for a live audience. It turns out that France’s national television system aired the concert as well, and recorded at least a part of it. The video is not a part of the Impulse! set, but a segment of it has shown up on YouTube, thanks to an uploader calling himself, or themselves, ajack2boys. It includes only 12 minutes of the performance, but it’s an intriguing glimpse of Coltrane’s quartet playing part of it eight months after they recorded the album.
The 30-page booklet that accompanies the super deluxe edition of the Coltrane album on Impulse! includes a number of previously unpublished photographs and a valuable Ashley Kahn essay about the music, the musicians and the circumstances of the recording.