The Album List: #48 John Coltrane “A Love Supreme”


Jazzy coolness, the bestest of the hepcats.

This one is different.

I can’t spew forth the usual “This is an awesome song, this is an awesome band, this vocal is fantastic and just listen to these guitars” bulltwaddle I usually bring to these proceedings. This is jazz, one of the two true American art forms that developed wholly from the New World. It is more American than rock and roll could ever be. And this is one of two jazz records on this list. The other one is influential because it was all about the piano, and I was a piano girl. This one , though, is about the sax.

There are no songs, per se. This is a masterwork of movements, four tracks, totalling over a half hour, of pure, perfect jazz. I can’t tell you what made Oscar Peterson superior to all other pianists save one other than the fact he was from Montreal and the Canadian in me is pretty adamant he’s one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time.

I’m a jazz fan, but not a jazz critic. I don’t have the vocabulary for it. I just know I love the genre, and I love this album in particular for being so optimistic. The sparse beauty and sheer imagination of Coltrane’s sax was awe-inspiring. This is a man a with a history of spiritualism and addiction, and was only a few years away from his own death.  This is the record of a man at ease with his talent and his place in the world, with a brightness and a joy one rarely sees in jazz of the era ( Miles Davis, indeed, was downright pissed for most of the sixties). Coltrane was as close as he would ever be to that elusive thing we call “happy”.

I have listened to this album hundreds of times in my life.  I don’t know if it is Coltrane’s magnificent tenor sax, the preacher in a Sunday service, praising the heavens for the majesty of love, life, and art that grabs me, or Elvin Jones’ crisp, ferocious drumming, so amazingly  uplifting as to be the drums of the angels calling Coltrane home. The pianist in me wants to give credit to McCoy Tyner, Coltrane’s equal and musical partner, who matches the bandleader’s melodic sensibility and chord structure while never overshadowing him- and never letting himself be overshadowed. Maybe it’s the memorable and legendary bass lines created on the double bass by Jimmy Garrison, a sequence so admired it has been ripped off thousands of times by admirers the world over. These four men were the legendary Coltrane quartet, the geniuses who gave us this beautiful piece. Jones and Tyner both appeared on Coltrane’s other masterwork, My Favourite Things,  in 1961. But A Love Supreme, missing an audacious moment like Coltrane’s famous cover of “My Favourite Things”, is even braver somehow. Coltrane dares to intone vocals (!) on the opening movement, “Acknowledgement”, a simple droning of the album’s title.  He allows for Jones’ expansive and expressive drum solos, the deep and rich solos of Garrison ( the one at the end of “Pursuance” is particularly grand), and Tyner as always gives the band its melodic focus as Coltrane plays his sax as only he could- minimalistic, melodic, and magnificent.

The album is a celebration of life. I wish life was always a perfect as this record. Sadly, it is not. But  man- for thirty-two minutes, it comes close.

 

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