John Coltrane: A Love Supreme

“A legendary album-long hymn of praise…the indelible four-note theme of the first movement, ‘Acknowledgment,’ is the humble foundation of the suite. But Coltrane’s majestic, often violent blowing (famously described as ‘sheets of a love supremesound’) is never self-aggrandizing. Aloft with his classic quartet…., Coltrane soars with nothing but gratitude and joy. You can’t help but go with him.” -Rolling Stone magazine

“I love the combination of abstract piano that’s all sort of ‘clang’, and weird chords with wailing saxophone over the top.” – Neil Hannon (frontman of The Divine Comedy)

Overview: Okay, let’s start with giving major props to John Coltrane. He has some mad skills. He is amazing. This album is beautiful and the concept behind the album required some real work. When I think of jazz, I typically think, “ugh.” I don’t think this because I think jazz is bad. It is just out of my safe, comfortable box. I often feel that jazz is not very structured and plays too loose with the music it is given. As I was listening to this album, I could hear the form, and the chordal progression. This was not just a free-for-all, as I often think of jazz.

I loved this album. It is only a little over 30 minutes long, so it was the perfect length for me! My favorite moment was probably in the third movement, “Pursuance” with the piano solo. The piano featured the rhythm-section capabilities in the bass register while letting the treble be very scalar and melodic. It was a beautiful solo that emphasized the capabilities of the pianist, McCoy Tyner.

I also want to give a shout-out to all the drummers in this world. I once sat at a drum set and played. I was able to keep a couple things going at once and stay on beat. It was hard. As a pianist, I am used to thinking of a lot of things at once and am capable of doing some hard things. As a faux-drummer, I struggled. Not only do I have a whole bunch of different thing in front of me, I have to keep a steady beat (I am the heartbeat of the group), keep my feet going, and know what each of my hands is supposed to do and how to make them behave! The percussionist on this album, Elvin Jones, was stupendous! Hats off to you Elvin!

My favorite movement overall was the finale, “Psalm.” It sounded to me almost like a reckoning of a sort. The storm that had been brewing in the earlier movements had arrived. The percussion sounded, to me, like rolling thunder. Coltrane came in wailing on his saxophone, like a vocalist or like he was crying. It was beautiful.

This is an album that should be in every jazz enthusiast’s collection. Go take a listen. You can thank me later.

Released February 1965 on Impulse! Records.

Recorded: December 9, 1964 in one session!

An alternative version of “Acknowledgement” was recorded the next day (Dec 10)

  • Included tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp & bassist Art Davis
  • Did not feature Coltrane chanting “a love supreme” – one reason he chose to issue the quartet version

Recorded at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, US

Genre: avant-garde jazz, modal jazz, post-bop

Length: 33:02

A Love Supreme sold about 500,000 copies by 1970; Coltrane’s typical Impulse! sales consisted of about 30,000.

The manuscript for the album is one of the National Museum of American History’s “Treasures of American History,” part of the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

In 1994, ranked #3 in Colin Larkin’s Top 100 Jazz Albums.

In 2003, it was ranked #47 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Considered by many to be Coltrane’s greatest work. It combined the hard bop of his early career with the free jazz and modal jazz that he would adopt later in his career.

There are two suggestions for inspiration for the album

  1. Coltrane’s home in Dix Hills, Long Island as the site of inspiration.
  2. Coltrane’s exposure to Ahmadiyya Islam

A Love Supreme was intended to be a spiritual album, broadly representative of a personal struggle for purity. It was meant to express the artist’s deep gratitude as he admits to his talent and instrument as being owned not by him but by a spiritual higher power.

The album is written as a four-part suite, broken up into tracks.

  1. Acknowledgment: contains the mantra that gave the suite its name
    1. 4-note theme very evident
    2. Begins with bang of gong followed by cymbal washes.
    3. Bass follows with the 4-note motif that provides structure for the movement.
    4. Coltrane’s solo follows.
      1. Besides soloing upon variations of the motif, at one point Coltrane repeats the four-notes over & over in different transpositions.
    5. After many repetitions, the motif becomes the vocal chant “A Love Supreme” sung by Coltrane (accompanying himself via overdubs)
  2. Resolution
    1. Nice piano solo! Beautiful combination of rhythm capabilities as well as melodic capabilities
  3. Pursuance
    1. Begins with a drum solo
    2. Scalar piano solo – amazing
      1. Treble scalar
      2. Bass rhythm section
    3. Upright bass solo with no accompanying from other instrument
      1. Not amplified
      2. Probably jumping all over the place with fingering because the jumps were fast and wide in intervals
  4. Psalm
    1. Almost sounds like a storm or some kind of reckoning at the beginning. Drums sound like rolling thunder with the saxophone “crying” or singing and piano chords.
    2. Coltrane performs what he calls a “musical narration” of a devotional poem, which he included in the liner notes.
      1. He plays the words of the poem on the saxophone, but does not actually speak them.
      2. This may be a homage to sermons of African-American preachers.
      3. The poem ends with the cry “Elation. Elegance. Exaltation. All from God. Thank you God. Amen.”

Musical Personnel

  • John Coltrane: bandleader, liner notes, vocals, tenor saxophone
  • Jimmy Garrison: double bass
  • Elvin Jones: drums, gong, timpani
  • McCoy Tyner: piano
  • Art Davis: double bass on alternate takes of “Acknowledgment”
  • Archie Shepp: tenor saxophone on alternate takes of “Acknowledgment”

Production Personnel

  • George Gray/Viceroy: cover design
  • Victor Kalin: illustration
  • Joe Lebow: liner design
  • Bob Thiele: production and cover photo
  • Rudy Van Gelder: engineering and mastering

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