The History of the Albums – n°257
Yes, A Love Supreme is my favorite jazz album, as if Coltrane had already said it all in the title of his greatest masterpiece. John Coltrane had already offered us a huge amount of extraordinary albums so far, but just like Miles Davis' Kind of Blue and Charle Mingus' The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, this last relic was missing to compete with them. That day took a while, but it finally arrived, as the ultimate salvation, the divine consecration. As for his companions, A Love Supreme is a concept album, recognized in particular for having officially introduced the Spiritual Jazz, which remains one of the major revolutions that Jazz has known. There is the before and after of A Love Supreme, so much so that the avant-garde jazzmen of the following years followed these foundations and structures for decades. On the other hand A Love Supreme also represents the quintessence of Jazz Avant-Garde, Post-Bop and one of the most beautiful Modal/Free Jazz marvels that Jazz has known. The Jazz Spiritual that John Coltrane built is based on the philosophical aspect of music and themes. It's more a way of doing and being than a musical style in reality because it generally draws on Avant-Garde Jazz foundations (even if Jazz Spiritual incorporates international, often oriental sounds). It is above all a state of mind, which ended up entering the jazz mores and habits especially at the end of the 60s and during the 70s. Fusing culture, meditation, spirituality, philosophy, religion and beliefs, John Coltrane proposed a whole new vision of art and music in general, expanding the realms of the possible and the impossible. A Love Supreme is a reflection that reproduces itself endlessly, which has the gift of bringing you a different vision depending on the mood or your own personal state.
In previous episodes on Coltrane, I left you in 1961 at the end of the controversial Olé Coltrane and Africa/Brass. At that time, the public was only then ready for the new direction Coltrane was taking, its entry into experimentation with the avant-garde jazz. He had just signed with Impulse and had the artistic freedom and significant experience of Rudy Van Gelder! And it was to detach a little from his addictions to hard drugs. Coltrane never lets the critics down, on the contrary it motivates him to be even more creative. From 1962 Coltrane and his various formations started to experiment little by little what will become A Love Supreme, that is to say taking a step towards spirituality, musical and creative openness, while keeping the complexity and technicality of his works. To achieve this, Coltrane first explored all facets of Post-Bop, Modal and Avant-Garde Jazz, gradually refining his rendering and originality with the help of his "classic quartet" composed of Jimmy Garrison on double bass, McCoy Tyner on piano and Elvin Jones on percussion. He has even lost his way for a few moments to deliver live albums of anthology or even albums of collaborations. All of this took time, if in retrospect the year 1961 is a year clearly dominated by Coltrane, the following years illustrate precisely this moment when Coltrane and his quartet tried to find the right formula that would lead to A Love Supreme. It was so perilous that there is even a "lost album" recorded in 1963 and released only in 2018.
However here it is, A Love Supreme. Recorded in a single session in December 1964, the Classic Quartet found the magic solution. This concept album is actually composed of a single composition, cut into 4 acts (tracks) like a play, with a pause between each period (by choice, even I think is also caused by the lack of technology to incorporate the fade transition also plays a role). A Love Supreme is built to be an access album about progression, as if every step is important to reach the apotheosis of spirituality. The first part Acknowledgement uses precisely this progressive side, presenting all the characters (especially the artists and the instruments), as if the "acknowledgement" is acquired with time and evidence. The second part is much more rhythmic and lively, as if the actors had just found their goal, that they are now trying to reach it. It is from this moment that the interaction between the quartet begins to grow and to show incomparable technical prowess. The determination of each one to solve the enigma is felt as if the road to spirituality was an exhausting labyrinth, particularly difficult to understand. So much so that the quartet is in full swing when it arrives at the third part Pursuance, as its name suggests, a veritable unbridled race for consecration. This part exudes an immense personal and team motivation to be wanted by a stratospheric interpretation. It is rare to see so much complexity, madness and complementarity within the same group. Yet it is very real. You can listen to it a thousand times without being left out, without ever necessarily understanding the same thing. Finally we can draw a parallel between the evolution of the album and the situation of the quartet that took a few years and sweat to find the right formula. To finish the last part, the psalm, a poetic and spiritual work that shows the apogee of the goal they were trying to reach. It is the meeting of poetry, of total recognition, of inner peace and reflection on religion, more globally what surpasses us as human beings. To sum it up in a more understandable way, imagine that you have finished your spiritual quest, and that you find yourself in a totally new world, which offers you the possibility to express yourself fully, to feel yourself.
To conclude, as with most concept albums, it is not on A Love Supreme that you will find the most cult and "best" compositions/songs in history. That's why he wants to focus more on standards, compilations and charts. Here it's as if A Love Supreme was apart, thought of as a work in its own right. What I admire is precisely all the richness of spirit, all this incredible technicality that everyone shows. It's just something unique, like when you fall madly in love with someone and they make you feel so good, like you never did before, that the love story was the concept itself.