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Music: Jazz Masterpiece “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane

Arguably the best album John Coltrane ever recorded and consistently mentioned as the greatest album in jazz, “A Love Supreme” lives up to everything every melody.

Coltrane was riding an artistic high– enormously successful thanks to 1960’s “My Favorite Things“, he had quite a bit more latitude than many musicians, a producer who would support his every experiment in Bob Thiele, and a band willing to go wherever he needed (pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones) who he’d developed a rapport with over three years of constantly working together. He’d just recorded the stunning “Crescent” several months earlier and entered the studio in December to record this suite.

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The piece, as indicated by the liner notes Coltrane penned, is spiritually informed, a prayer offered to God. The music itself is based on relatively traditional structures, but Coltrane manages to juggle a number of influences and sounds– shades of Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler all run through it. The suite is broken in four movements– “Acknowledgement” is patient and building, revolving around a four-note bass motif– Trane is exploratory and yearning.

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After a brief bass solo, this moves into the frantic “Resolution“, where Coltrane rails against his theme, turns things over to a oddly meditative yet equally frantic Tyner, and then solos himself in Monkish fashion– extrapolating off his theme and exploring the sort of spiritual ecstacy that he heard in Ayler. A brief drum solo signals the transition to “Pursuance“– Jones is full of energy and explosiveness and this sustains throughout the piece, Coltrane’s extended solo is nothing short of stunning, full of fire and energy before suddenly taming down and surrendering to Jones briefly then an astonishing solo by Garrison. Finally, the long exhale after the tension– “Psalm“, finds Coltrane meditative, almost wistful, and informed with a sense of optimistic melancholy.

When it’s all done, it’s an experience. Many listeners find this the first truly unlistenable Coltrane album– too much for its own good, but it certainly leaves its mark. My assessment is that the album is nothing short of stunning.

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