Review of a new live recording of “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane


Live musical performances are generally freer than those recorded in the studio, for reasons related to the particular psychology of many performing artists. In public, where what is played is what is heard, the experienced musician – instead of taking fewer risks, as laymen do, to avoid mistakes or mistakes – is uninhibited, inspired, unleashed by existential pressure of the irrevocable moment. Fortunately, these concerts are sometimes recorded (whether secretly, as bootlegs, or for the personal use of musicians). More fortunately still, these private recordings are sometimes authorized and legitimately diffused, for the benefit of the artists or their families. This is exactly what happened with an extraordinary discovery and release, “A Love Supreme Live in Seattle”, a performance that saxophonist John Coltrane, playing with his classical quartet and three other musicians, gave in a club. from this city called the Penthouse, on October 2, 1965. (It was recorded by musician Joe Brazil, who led the club’s house band and was a friend of Coltrane.)

No knock on Coltrane’s many great studio performances – which include the original recording of “A Love Supreme” from December 1964 – but he is one of the best examples of the artist finding his greatest daring and originality. in public. This was evident when another live recording of “A Love Supreme” from July 1965 was released, featuring the quartet alone. But Seattle’s performance is radically different and is revealing in a way that reflects major transformations in Coltrane’s art and jazz in general.

“A Love Supreme Live in Seattle” surprises Coltrane and his longtime companions – pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones – in a time of tumultuous flow. Coltrane had recently turned his attention to what is called, in short, free jazz. He was particularly won over by the music of Albert Ayler, a tenor saxophonist who played with incredible fervor, howling and roaring. Ayler did not rely on any harmonic structure, avoided the kick of most jazz, joined other soloists in raucous collective improvisations, and drew on the deep roots of black music – brass bands and gospel sounds. – as a springboard for mysterious furies and spiritual explorations. By early 1965, Coltrane’s performances had begun to reveal his affinity for this musical style. In June of the same year, he brought together eleven musicians in the studio – the quartet, another bassist and five other horn soloists, including a twenty-four-year-old tenor saxophonist named Pharoah Sanders – for an album titled “Ascension”. It was an energetic and noisy collective improvisation experience, interspersed with individual solos. For the West Coast tour that brought Coltrane and his band to Seattle, he turned the quartet into a quintet, bringing in Sanders, who performed somewhat Ayler style, as a regular member. For this club date, Coltrane also joined the young alto saxophonist Carlos Ward and bassist Donald Rafael Garrett.

Due to the size of the group and the many soloists that make it up, there is actually not much of Coltrane performing in “A Love Supreme Live in Seattle,” about twenty minutes of the seventy-five minute concert. But what it is is extraordinary (even if the sound quality is far from optimal – Coltrane’s saxophone is particularly deep in the mix, behind the piano and the drums). “A Love Supreme” is a suite in four movements. On the first, the “Acknowledgment” at medium tempo, Coltrane states a brief introductory theme, then leads the group to set up a vamp, supported by the bassists. It is only after that Coltrane enters on the tenor saxophone, with a statement of the theme, that he distils in a small cellular phrase of a few notes then grabs, compresses, mutes, interweaves with tangles and barrages of sounds. He does so with boundless energy and delighted concentration, fusing intellectual complexity and wild spontaneity, sonic ecstasy and trance serenity. Sanders follows with a beautifully young and brash solo, playing very quickly and with a panting, burry tenor tone, moving around the more distant motif than Coltrane but no less energetically, albeit with less visible thematic development. Coltrane then returns, delivering another solo of a whole different kind – instead of intertwining, he moans, moans and bursts out in rhetorical fury before rephrasing the theme and guiding the first section to a final flowering of percussion and solos. extended bass.

On the second movement, the lively “Resolution”, Ward takes the first solo, and his playing is both idiomatic and idiosyncratic, borrowing stylistic cues from violas like Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy in search of his own compressed rhythm and frantic, even if it is somewhat unchanging. -explorations. Then Coltrane arrives with a hectic intensity carried along by streams and cries of celestial assault which, like in many of his greatest solos, resemble a play in tongues. On the extremely fast third movement, “Pursuance,” Coltrane simply states the theme and steps aside for a long Sanders solo that quickly jumps into high-intensity screams but has nowhere to go. The star of this section is Tyner, whose nine-minute solo, with firm post-bop propulsiveness, quickly locks Jones into a powerfully swinging groove that the pianist carries in ever bolder tempo, dissonant hammering chords and grand stunts. bass notes.

The fourth part of the suite, “Psalm”, is Coltrane’s setting to music, to slow and fervent music, of a poem he wrote, the words of which are not heard on the disc but are printed in the cover notes of the original album. Here, Coltrane does not allude, in fragments, to the studio performance during a passionately devotional solo that turns ghostly moans to delighted hoots. They are matched by Jones’ earthquake thunder and Tyner’s scattering of deep shadow and celestial light.

When I learned the size and composition of the group featured on “A Love Supreme Live in Seattle”, I anticipated something other than the succession of solos it presents. I was expecting the tumult of collective improvisations, because of another series of live recordings that Coltrane and the same band, minus Ward, had made, two days earlier, at the same location. Officially released as “Live in Seattle” (the LP was released in 1971; an extended two-CD box set was released in 1994), this recording, with its overwhelming and frenzied energy, casts a giant shadow over performance in “A Love Supreme Live in Seattle. If this new release shows where Coltrane was coming from, the album“ Live in Seattle ”shows where Coltrane was heading. By the end of the year, Tyner had left the band and had been replaced. by Alice McLeod Coltrane, John’s wife. In early 1966, Jones also left and his post was filled by Rashied Ali. McLeod Coltrane, although a great musician, was not as exuberant a soloist as Tyner, and Ali was not the polyrhythmic colossus that Jones was, but both had the virtue of being in complete fellowship with Coltrane’s new music.

Coltrane’s musical journey would continue in dangerously unexplored places, such as on the album “Om”, recorded in a studio in the Seattle suburbs on October 1, 1965; on the title tracks of his albums “Kulu Se Mama” and “Selflessness”, which were recorded during the same tour, in Los Angeles, on October 14; and on the album “Meditations”, recorded in New Jersey, in November. These ecstatic recordings suggest the essential role that the studio, too, played for Coltrane: it was a musical laboratory that prepared him for the limitless outpourings and indelible inspirations of his public appearances, as they have been preserved, of the most moving way, in the final minutes of Coltrane’s final. existing work, the “My Favorite Things” version of “The Olatunji Concert: The Last Live Recording,” which took place in Harlem on April 23, 1967, less than three months before Coltrane’s death. It ends with Coltrane on soprano saxophone and Sanders on tenor, improvising together in a musical supernova of sacred terror.


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Corina C. Butler

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