Monday, July 11, 2016

A Year's Music: John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme"

I'm still playing favorite music this year that have some spiritual component. When we were on an international trip this summer, I listened to this album, and I realized that I listen to it most often on airplanes. There must be something about it that helps me stay rooted and happy, when I'm prone to be anxious traveling or homesick. I also have the only live recording of the piece, which was released a few years ago.

The reviewer at writes: "One of the most important records ever made, John Coltrane's A Love Supreme was his pinnacle studio outing, that at once compiled all of the innovations from his past, spoke to the current of deep spirituality that liberated him from addictions to drugs and alcohol, and glimpsed at the future innovations of his final two and a half years. Recorded over two days in December 1964, Trane's classic quartet--Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, and Jimmy Garrison-- stepped into the studio and created one of the most the most thought-provoking, concise, and technically pleasing albums of their bountiful relationship. From the undulatory (and classic) bassline at the intro to the last breathy notes, Trane is at the peak of his logical and emotionally varied soloing, while the rest of the group is completely attuned to his spiritual vibe. Composed of four parts, each has a thematic progression. 'Acknowledgement' is the awakening to a spiritual life from the darkness of the world; it trails off with the saxophonist chanting the suite's title. 'Resolution' is an amazingly beautiful, somewhat turbulent segment. It portrays the dedication required for discovery on the path toward spiritual understanding. 'Pursuance' searches deeply for that experience, while 'Psalm' portrays that discovery and the realization of enlightenment with humility. Although sometimes aggressive and dissonant, this isn't Coltrane at his most furious or adventurous. His recordings following this period--studio and live-- become progressively untethered and extremely spirited. A Love Supreme not only attempts but realizes the ambitious undertaking of Coltrane's concept; his emotional, searching, sometimes prayerful journey is made abundantly clear. Clocking in at 33 minutes; A Love Supreme conveys much without overstatement. It is almost impossible to imagine any jazz collection without it."

The album includes a poem of gratitude, which Coltrane plays on the sax without speaking the actual words.

NPR has a good essay about the album's creation, including this insight, "Even in struggle and suffering, we sing, because life is a blessing. As much as Coltrane made his saxophone cry — for his suffering, and the world's — in A Love Supreme he's telling us that the most important voice to raise is one of gratitude to the creator for the gift of life."

Here is the full album:

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