“A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane

A Love Supreme recorded by John Coltrane‘s quartet is a four-part suite, broken up into tracks: “Acknowledgement” (which contains the mantra that gave the suite its name), “Resolution”, “Pursuance”, and “Psalm.” It is intended to be a spiritual album, broadly representative of a personal struggle for purity, and expresses the artist’s deep gratitude as he admits to his talent and instrument as being owned not by him but by a spiritual higher power.

The album begins with the bang of a gong (tam-tam), followed by cymbal washes. Jimmy Garrison follows on bass with the four-note motif which structures the entire movement. Coltrane’s solo follows. Besides soloing upon variations of the motif, at one point Coltrane repeats the four notes over and over in different modulations. After many repetitions, the motif becomes the vocal chant “A Love Supreme”, sung by Coltrane (accompanying himself via overdubs).

In the final movement, Coltrane performs what he calls a “musical narration” (Lewis Porter describes it as a “wordless ‘recitation'”) of a devotional poem he included in the liner notes. That is, Coltrane “plays” the words of the poem on saxophone, but does not actually speak them. Some scholars have suggested that this performance is a homage to the sermons of African-American preachers.  The poem (and, in his own way, Coltrane’s solo) ends with the cry “Elation. Elegance. Exaltation. All from God. Thank you God. Amen.”

Paolo Steffan, Portrait of John Coltrane (2007)

A Love Supreme is a studio album recorded by John Coltrane‘s quartet in December 1964 and released by Impulse! Records(catalogue number AS-77) in February 1965. It is generally considered to be among Coltrane’s greatest works, as it melded the hard bop sensibilities of his early career with the free jazz style he adopted later.

The quartet recorded the album in one session on December 9, 1964, at the Van Gelder Studio in Englewood CliffsNew Jersey.Coltrane’s home in Dix Hills, Long Island, has been suggested as the site of inspiration for A Love Supreme.

A Love Supreme is often listed amongst the greatest jazz albums of all time. It was also quite popular for a jazz album, selling about 500,000 copies by 1970, a number far exceeding Coltrane’s typical Impulse! sales of around 30,000.  As further testimony to the recording’s historic significance, the manuscript for the album is one of the National Museum of American History‘s “Treasures of American History”, part of the collection of the Smithsonian Institution. In 2003, the album was ranked number 47 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The publication called it a “legendary album-long hymn of praise” and stated “The indelible four-note theme of the first movement, ‘Acknowledgment,’ is the humble foundation of the suite. But Coltrane’s majestic, often violent blowing (famously described as ‘sheets of sound’) is never self-aggrandizing. Aloft with his classic quartet…, Coltrane soars with nothing but gratitude and joy. You can’t help but go with him.” The Penguin Guide to Jazz selected this album as part of its suggested “Core Collection” and awarded it a “crown” stating “It is without precedent and parallel, and though it must also be one of the best loved jazz records of all time it somehow remains remote from critical pigeonholing” calling it “immensely concentrated and rich.”

The album’s influence has been extensive and diverse. Musicians ranging from tenor Joshua Redman to the rockstar Bono of U2 have singled out the influence of the album on their own work. Guitarists John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana have each credited the album as one of their greatest early influences.


2 Comments on ““A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane”

  1. Nate says:

    Love Supreme is a classic. Thanks.


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