A Newly Released Live Recording of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” Reviewed


Live musical performances are normally freer than these recorded in studios, for causes having to do with the peculiar psychology of many performing artists. In public, the place what’s performed is what’s heard, the skilled musician—as an alternative of taking fewer possibilities, as lay folks would possibly, with a purpose to keep away from waywardness or errors—is disinhibited, impressed, unleashed by the existential strain of the irrevocable second. Fortunately, these concert events typically get recorded (whether or not secretly, as bootlegs, or for musicians’ private use). Even extra happily, typically these personal recordings get licensed and legitimately launched, to the profit of the artists or their households. That’s precisely what has occurred with a rare discovery and launch, “A Love Supreme Live in Seattle,” a efficiency that the saxophonist John Coltrane, enjoying together with his traditional quartet plus three different musicians, gave at a jazz membership in that metropolis known as the Penthouse, on October 2, 1965. (It was recorded by the musician Joe Brazil, who led the membership’s home band and was a buddy of Coltrane’s.)

No knock on Coltrane’s many nice studio performances—which embody the unique recording of “A Love Supreme,” from December, 1964—however he’s one of the prime examples of the artist who finds his greatest audacity and originality in public. This was evident when one other reside recording of “A Love Supreme,” from July, 1965, was launched, that includes the quartet alone. But the Seattle efficiency is drastically completely different, and is revelatory in ways in which replicate main transformations in Coltrane’s artistry and in jazz at massive.

“A Love Supreme Live in Seattle” catches Coltrane and his longtime bandmates—the pianist McCoy Tyner, the bassist Jimmy Garrison, and the drummer Elvin Jones—in a time of tempestuous flux. Coltrane had these days been turning his consideration towards what is named, for brief, free jazz. He was particularly taken with the music of Albert Ayler, a tenor saxophonist who performed with an unprecedented, shrieking, roaring fervor. Ayler relied on no harmonic buildings, eschewed the foot-tapping beat of most jazz, joined different soloists in raucous collective improvisations, and tapped into the deep roots of Black music—marching bands and gospel sounds—as a springboard for mysterious furies and religious explorations. By early 1965, Coltrane’s performances had begun to disclose his affinity for that musical method. In June of that yr, he assembled eleven musicians within the studio—the quartet, one other bassist, and 5 extra horn soloists, together with a twenty-four-year-old tenor saxophonist named Pharoah Sanders—for an album known as “Ascension.” It was an experiment in high-energy and clamorous collective improvisation, interspersed with particular person solos. For the West Coast tour that introduced Coltrane and his group to Seattle, he turned the quartet right into a quintet, bringing in Sanders, who carried out in one thing of an Ayler-ish model, as a daily member. For this membership date, Coltrane additionally added the younger alto saxophonist Carlos Ward and the bassist Donald Rafael Garrett.

Because of the dimensions of the group and the various soloists in it, there truly isn’t all that a lot of Coltrane’s enjoying in “A Love Supreme Live in Seattle”—about twenty minutes of the seventy-five-minute live performance. But what there may be of it’s extraordinary (even when the sound high quality is lower than optimum—Coltrane’s saxophone is especially deep within the combine, behind the piano and drums). “A Love Supreme” is a collection in 4 actions. On the primary, the medium-tempo “Acknowledgment,” Coltrane states a short introductory theme, then leads the group in setting a vamp, undergirded by the bass gamers. Only afterward does Coltrane enter on tenor sax, with a press release of the theme, which he distills to a bit of, cell-like phrase of a couple of notes after which grasps, compresses, mutates, interweaves with skeins and barrages of sound. He does so with overflowing vitality and rapt focus, fusing mental complexity and wild spontaneity, sound-shredding ecstasy and trancelike serenity. Sanders follows with a wonderfully youthful and brash solo, enjoying very quickly and with a breathy and burry tenor tone, shifting across the motif extra distantly than Coltrane however no much less energetically, albeit with much less conspicuous thematic growth. Coltrane then returns, delivering one other solo of a wholly completely different type—as an alternative of interweaving, he keens and wails and blasts in excessive rhetorical fury earlier than restating the theme and guiding the primary part to a concluding flourish of percussion and prolonged bass solos.

On the second motion, the brisk “Resolution,” Ward takes the primary solo, and his enjoying is each idiomatic and idiosyncratic, borrowing stylistic components from such altoists as Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy in pursuit of his personal compressed and frenetic—if considerably unvaried—explorations. Then Coltrane is available in with a busy, pushed depth of heaven-storming streams and screams that, as in lots of of his biggest solos, resemble enjoying in tongues. On the extraordinarily uptempo third motion, “Pursuance,” Coltrane merely states the theme and will get out of the best way for a protracted solo by Sanders that leaps rapidly into high-intensity shrieks however has nowhere else to go. The star of that part is Tyner, whose nine-minute solo, with a agency post-bop propulsiveness, rapidly locks Jones right into a mightily swinging groove that the pianist carries into an ever extra daringly fast tempo, poundingly dissonant chords, and grand cascades of bass notes.

The fourth half of the suite, “Psalm,” is Coltrane’s setting, to gradual and fervent music, of a poem that he wrote, the phrases of which aren’t heard within the document however are printed within the authentic album’s liner notes. Here Coltrane solely alludes, in fragments, to the studio efficiency within the course of a passionately devotional solo that veers from ghostly wails to rapturous ululations. They are matched by Jones’s earth-shaking thunder and Tyner’s scattering of deep shadow and celestial gentle.

When I realized of the dimensions and make-up of the group featured on “A Love Supreme Live in Seattle,” I anticipated one thing apart from the succession of solos that it presents. I anticipated the tumult of collective improvisations—as a result of of one other set of reside recordings that Coltrane and the identical group, minus Ward, had made, simply two days earlier, on the identical venue. Released formally as simply “Live in Seattle” (the LP got here out in 1971; an expanded two-CD set was issued in 1994), that recording, with its overwhelming and frenetic vitality, casts a large shadow over the efficiency in “A Love Supreme Live in Seattle.” If this new launch reveals the place Coltrane was coming from, the “Live in Seattle” album signifies the place Coltrane was heading. By the top of the yr, Tyner had left the band and been changed by Alice McLeod Coltrane, John’s spouse. Early in 1966, Jones left, too, and his place was stuffed by Rashied Ali. McLeod Coltrane, though a great musician, wasn’t as ebullient a soloist as Tyner, and Ali wasn’t the polyrhythmic colossus that Jones was, however each had the advantage of being in full communion with Coltrane’s new music.

Coltrane’s musical journey would proceed into dangerously uncharted locations, as on the album “Om,”recorded in a suburban Seattle studio, on October 1, 1965; on the title tracks of his albums “Kulu Se Mama” and “Selflessness,” which had been recorded on the identical tour, in Los Angeles, that October 14th; and on the album “Meditations,” recorded in New Jersey, in November. These ecstatic recordings recommend the important position that the studio, too, performed for Coltrane: it was a musical laboratory that ready him for the unbounded outpourings and indelible inspirations of his public appearances, as preserved, most movingly, within the final minutes of Coltrane’s remaining extant work, the model of “My Favorite Things” from “The Olatunji Concert: The Last Live Recording,” which passed off in Harlem, on April 23, 1967, lower than three months earlier than Coltrane died. It concludes with Coltrane on soprano saxophone and Sanders on tenor, improvising collectively in a musical supernova of holy terror.


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