The masterwork of saxophonist John Coltrane, A Love Supreme
remains a cultural icon: a life-changing work of art that resounds on all spiritual levels. A four-part suite about faith and redemption, it is more than a statement of piety, more even than the beautiful music contained within. A Love Supreme
inspired and defined a generation, who responded to Trane's message of universal peace and love; but you don't have to be part of the former hippie revolution or even know anything about religion to feel the power of the music. Only the most sullen athiest would not be moved by A Love Supreme
, and no musician can deny this is one of the most formidable jazz quartets of all time: holding court with Trane is his student piano virtuoso McCoy Tyner, and the rocket-fueled rhythm section of bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones. It is said that before making this particular album, Coltrane was spoken to by God; and after hearing A Love Supreme
that rumour is not hard to believe at all.
A Love Supreme, Pt. 1: Acknowledgement (Coltrane) - 7:47
It's clear A Love Supreme
is something special the instant you hear the dramatic opening notes of "Acknowledgement" - an awakening of sorts. The opening cadenza leads to Jimmy Garrison introducing the simple four-note theme of the album on his bass, which re-appears many times on various instruments and in different registers. Under a melodic piano intro, Jones lays down an Afro-Cuban groove while Garrison vamps and Coltrane takes an exceptionally long and expressive solo. Later in the piece, he leads the group in a vocal chant of "A love, supreme" to the tune of the opening bass line. The excellent timekeeping of Jones lends a hypnotic feel, similar to the quartet's work on "My Favourite Things" four years prior.
A Love Supreme, Pt. 2: Resolution (Coltrane) - 7:25
Garrison's unaccompanied ending segues into a short introduction, before the group launches into the hard-swinging bop of "Resolution". This second movement symbolizes the fury of commitment to a new path, and the group plays appropriately: Trane's intense, Eastern-flavoured theme is supported by Jones' furious fills and comping. Tyner, then Trane solo in turns; and their masterful licks show just how talented the group was to make a spontaneous, one-take album like this.
A Love Supreme, Pt. 3: Pursuance/Pt. 4: Psalm (Coltrane) - 17:50
The uptempo blues of "Pursuance" is introduced by means of a frenetic solo by Jones, which gives way to the dizzying syncopations of Garrison beneath Tyner and Coltrane. The longest jam also contains excellent extended soloes by both men, and in many ways it's not only the fastest and most tonally adventurous piece but the most pivotal: "Pursuance" represents actually attaining the goal itself. The best is yet to come, though, as Garrison takes a long, flamenco-inspired ending solo to bridge the final two sections of this one-take wonder.
"Psalm" is a very slow, dramatic and unique piece; played with no guidelines except a key and an approximate tempo, Coltrane "reads" the poem from the liner notes on his horn, in a very free and lyrical style. It has been said often that Coltrane's tone recalls the human voice, and it is hard not to be moved by his extremely vocal improvisations. The thunderstorm beneath him is created by Elvin on tympani, while Tyner and Garrison toil away in the low register. It's as if the heavens really did part to give us this beautiful piece, and the climax is simply amazing, when Coltrane intones the notes "All from God, thank you God; AMEN."
John Coltrane: Tenor Saxophone
McCoy Tyner: Piano
Jimmy Garrison: Bass
Elvin Jones: Drums, Percussion
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
I have seen God, and I have seen ungodly; and there can be no greater. It is, truly, A Love Supreme."