January 26, 2016
A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters
Arguably the best-known session in modern Jazz with the possible exception of trumpeter Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue five years earlier, A Love Supreme has since 1965 been universally acknowledged as the paramount achievement of saxophonist John Coltrane and his classic quartet. But like variants of familiar fairy tales which are subject to neoteric interpretations following the unearthing of ancillary information or up-to-date translations, A Love Supreme music involves more than the four tracks that made up the original LP with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones. Packaged with a 30-page book of analysis, musical notation and photographers plus 2½ additional CDs of music, this set could be regarded the same way as a Mishna, Catenist or Cursus commentary on the bible. While preserving the original text or LP, the additions deepen and amplify the experience.
With the original session inviolable in its excellence, the most revealing part of this project is how much recording studio trial-and-error went into creating what we know as A Love Supreme. Although the two original mono reference masters sound practically identical to the subsequently released mono and stereo master takes, the two additional quartet takes of “Acknowledgment”; two of “Resolution” and one of “Psalm” are like leafing through a visual artist’s sketchpad as he tries out depictions of what will be the final painting. Most obvious is how much a group statement the LP eventually was. More room for Tyner’s theme variations, Jones’ shifting rhythms and a more up-front role for Garrison can be heard in these 20 additional minutes of music. Distinctively however, as the music’s auteur, Trane never sounds less than inspired in any of his solos.
Disc 3, a live version of the suite performed at the Jazz Antibes festival six months after the December 1964 studio sessions, confirms this theory. By July 1965 while the outline of the suite remained along with all of its heads and transitions, A Love Supreme had become another quartet blowing vehicle. Each man contributes impeccable solo work, but the taut shape of the piece is beginning to sag under pressure from virtuosity, Approximately 10 minutes longer than the LP version, the music is also taken at a slower pace and with more mid-range delicacy. Trane frequently hits nearly unconscionable high notes following mewling tonal deconstruction during “Part II – Resolution”. But like an adventurous skier faced with a seemingly insurmountable jump, he has the expertise to pull back into controlled double-tonguing to avoid potential disaster.
“Part III – Pursuance” is almost double the length of the LP track and is where this quartet version most differs from the original. Not only does Jones produce polyrhythms while smacking strategies with rotary hammer-like concussions, but his inventive press rolls bring applause from the audience as if he was introducing a carnival act rather than steadying the sound picture. Furthermore Garrison’s sophisticated lute-like arpeggios alternating with rasgueado-like strums, conform that his infrequently showcased solo strength could be as cunningly elaborated as his time keeping. Meantime the Tyner-Trane partnership was not only is conjoined twins-like in execution, but underlines how the pianist’s judicious chord choices give the saxophonist license to express artful whorls that like a trapeze artist’s leaps always appeared daring but never miss the bar. This magisterial program led to choruses of cheers and some boos following the explosive finale.
One wonders what the response would have been had Coltrane followed through with his plans to expand the group to a sextet by adding tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp and bassist Art Davis to the band for the entire session. Like an unfinished novel along the lines of Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood, six takes of “Acknowledgment”, adding up to slightly more than 40 minutes of music, document what might have been. Jones’ cymbal work and drum swirling appear more pronounced as a way to counter the additional weight, whereas Tyner seems to retreat into the background. Davis, who recorded with Coltrane before and after these sessions, adds a graceful guitar-like oversight to the composition, perhaps inspiring Garrison’s more fulsome solos in Antibes. Garrison’s cello-like sweeps, which are even more prominent six months later, are here as well though.
Shepp too functions as an Everley Brothers-like harmonic foil to Coltrane, with one saxophonist liming the melody as the other constructs variations on it, and vice versa, However Shepp, who had already established his own style by that time, and recorded as a leader is easily distinguishable from Trane. Despite occasional honks and sputters, Trane’s playing is flowing, whereas Shepp’s is narrower, with a petulant tone that often sounds as if the reedist is nursing a toothache. Perhaps that’s why Jones’ playing was so bellicose. For whatever reason, the efforts don’t often gel. Only when Tyner is roused to some sympathetic comping on “Acknowledgment - Take 6” does a procedure appear to be taking shape. With the two basses both strumming ferociously and the two saxophonists alternately creating and deconstructing the theme the creative fires are lit. But that group impulse would only come to fruition less than two years later when this sextet plus five other players recorded Ascension.
Like a so-called director’s cut of a classic film, A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters, with its abundance of detailed new material, creates a novel variant of an already widely praised art work. Coltrane students and completists will clamor for it. Others may be satisfied with the original disc.
Track Listing: Track Listing: CD1: 1. Part I – Acknowledgment 2. Part II - Resolution 3. Part III – Pursuance 4. Part IV – Psalm 5. Part III - Pursuance (mono) 6. Part IV - Psalm (mono) CD2: 1. Part I - Acknowledgment (vocal overdub 2) 2. Part I - Acknowledgment (vocal overdub 3) 3. Part II - Resolution (take 4/alternate) 4. Part II - Resolution (take 6/breakdown) 5. Part IV - Psalm (undubbed version) 6. Part I - Acknowledgment (take 1/alternate)*+ 7. Part I - Acknowledgment (take 2/alternate)*+ 8. Part I - Acknowledgment (take 3/breakdown with studio dialogue)*+ 9. Part I - Acknowledgment (take 4/alternate) *+ 10. Part I - Acknowledgment (take 5/false start)*+ 11. Part I - Acknowledgment (take 6/alternate)*+ CD3: 1. Introduction by M.C. André Francis 2. Part I - Acknowledgment (live) 3. Part II - Resolution (live) 4. Part III - Pursuance (live) 5. Part IV (live)
Personnel: John Coltrane (tenor and alto saxophones; Archie Shepp* (tenor saxophone); McCoy Tyner (piano); Jimmy Garrison and Art Davis+ (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums)