What happens when the world’s greatest saxophone player journeys into the innermost depths of his soul to make music that expresses his inner peace and spiritual awakening? John Coltrane’s complete submission to God while he cleansed himself of substance abuse resulted in ‘A Love Supreme’, an album that is beautifully honest and incredibly soulful. In Coltrane’s own words, written on the liner notes of the LP, he says ‘This album is a humble offering to Him. An attempt to say "THANK YOU GOD" through our work, even as we do in our hearts and with our tongues. May He help and strengthen all men in every good endeavour.”
While with Miles Davis, Coltrane had worked on the ideas of ‘modal jazz’ in the path-breaking album, ‘Kind Of Blue’ and then some of his solo subsequent albums. But it’s here that he took it to a visceral level with his wonderful quartet featuring McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums).
Based on 4 keys, the 4 part suite is a 33 minutes hymn. The album starts off with Acknowledgement’s bang of a gong, followed by cymbals. Garrison’s bass comes in with the four-note motif that structures the entire album. And then Coltrane's solo follows. Apart from the solo, the variations of the motif, at one point, Coltrane repeats the four notes over and over in different manners. And then the chanting by Coltrane, ‘A Love Supreme’ comes in. Almost like a tribal mantra.
Then comes Resolution, Pursuance and the final movement, Psalm, wherein Coltrane performs what he called a ‘musical narration’ of a devotional poem he included in the liner notes.
The Guardian’s jazz critic panned the album when it was released by calling it ‘an exercise in monotony’. Today it stands tall as one of the greatest jazz albums of all time, featuring in any noteworthy jazz collection. The sales figures of the album also narrate its huge success.
Personally speaking, I didn’t get the album when I heard it for the first time. Perhaps because I was relatively new to jazz at that point in time. But today on every listen, I get gooseflesh and even tears, if I am a couple of Scotches down. Especially on the final movement Psalm.
I am an atheist so how do I explain it? It’s the power of the honesty and the depth of Coltrane’s feeling that has come out in this incredible and timeless piece of work. Add to that, the fact that he was the finest in saxophone playing business.
Although, some will say that there is a believer hiding somewhere inside me. Well, I do believe in John Coltrane!
Genre: Modal Jazz / Avant-Garde Jazz / Free Jazz
Producer: Bob Thiele
Reviewed by Meraj Hasan
Meraj Hasan is a Mumbai based communication professional (and an amateur poet/musician) with a passion for listening to music the vinyl way. His 25 year old Technics turntable along with a humble collection of LPs across genres like Classic rock, Classical, Blues and Jazz (amongst others) are his prized possessions.
He can be reached at +91 9833410791 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org