Sunday, November 11, 2007

In Review--Archival John Coltrane A Love Supreme


John Coltrane
A Love Supreme
MCA Records, (1964)

Jazz saxophonist-composer John Coltrane discovered God in the late 1950s which led the be bop performer to eventually record, A Love Supreme. According to Coltrane, "During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At the time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music."

A Love Supreme with its hard edges and dissonant staccato saxophone passages, would not be my first place to seek happiness. But having been through an ordeal of relocating and completely altering my life circumstances recently, A Love Supreme seems like the right medicine for me. And anyone experiencing a dip on their life path, might also find this music to act as a healing balm.

It's not for everyone, and Coltrane caused a lot of controversy among the jazz world with his hard edges and experimentation. Yet, he is considered one of the legends of American jazz and his music often is mentioned in books referring to healing music. Those are the healing books I trust, because any mindful healer knows the messy process of healing. Soft, soothing music has its place in the massage office, but when it comes to getting in touch with one's soul, hard edges and disonnant passages work wonders.

A Love Supreme features a quartet of gifted musicians including Coltrane on tenor sax, with McCoy Tyner (piano) and Jimmy Garrison (bass) anchoring the Coltrane's flights of fancy. Drummer Elvin Jones' solos throughout remind us that this is a be bop album, and on the final track, Part 4-Psalm, Jone's drums mirror kettle drums with his thundering beats. The musicianship here is beautiful and profound; chaotic and unnerving.

I wouldn't call the album bright and cheerful by any means, but a spiritual awakening is hardly an ice cream social. What Coltrane and his band capture here is the path to God starting with Acknowledgement, followed by Resolution, Pursuance and ending in Psalm (a saint or prophet's path). And like the Biblical Psalms, we can feel Coltrane purging his demons through his saxophone. Those sharp edges, like shards of glass that cut deep into our skin, and to the core of our being, act as a mirror to a soul seeking perfection.

A Love Supreme gives the impression that it should be a feel-good album, but you won't find smooth jazz on this album. You will not find any pretty melodies or love songs, (although you will find some of that on Coltrane's Giant Steps). Yet, A Love Supreme does bring atonement to the soul, and it is a good remedy for those willing to face chaos which leads to change in one's life. It is only when pain signals that something is wrong, do we take the necessary steps to heal ourselves. And A Love Supreme reminds us of that. And if you want, you can follow-up with Coltrane's rendition of My Favorite Things.

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