This Week in Vinyl: John Coltrane – A Love Supreme

I started writing this as a comment to a post by one of my favorite music bloggers. The question posed to those following his blog was this: what was thought to be the best album ever recorded? I liked how it turned out so, with some edits and elaboration, I’m going to repost it here.

Make no mistake, this is a huge question. One that arguably has no right or wrong answer. Music, like most art, is subjective. What is great to one, may be utterly unlistenable to another. Subjectivity aside, when you take into account the massive volume of work to choose from, it bears the question, how do you single out one record from generations of inspired musical creation? I’ll try to narrow it down a bit.

Let’s talk jazz.

The late 1950’s and early 60’s turned out countless records that would be considered substantially influential and groundbreaking. 1959 alone would see the release of Time Out by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, and Giant Steps by John Coltrane. That’s a big year. From a standpoint of commercial success I’d be inclined to say that Kind of Blue may very well be the greatest jazz album ever recorded. I’d be right too. It is, however, an obvious choice to be sure. Kind of Blue was the first jazz record I can remember really listening to. I found it approachable as a new jazz listener, and captivating in exactly the right way that made me want to hear it again. And again… And again. With an all star line up of Jazz titans, musically and stylistically, there are few better jazz records and fewer still that have held up over the decades like Kind of Blue. I own several copies of this record on various media, but surprising no one, my favorite is the copy on 12” blue vinyl.

BUT….

This is not my choice.

We’re talking about the greatest record of all time. Commercial success is but one of many factors to consider. In order to separate one great record from so many others, the wheat from the chaff if you will, we have to peel back the layers and find a deeper meaning. In this case, without question it has to be A Love Supreme. While it is most definitely a jazz record, I believe it is the inspiration behind the record that transcends genre. Written and recorded with his quartet (in just one day) in 1964, then released in 1965, A Love Supreme was widely considered Coltrane’s best work, aptly described as a masterpiece, and became one of his best selling records.

A work of Divine inspiration, Coltrane composed this four part piece as an offering to God for the gifts and talents he was given to make music. It is a complex piece of music that aims, and I believe succeeds at communicating his appreciation for the self described “spiritual awakening” that set his life on a new and more fulfilling path. Each part: Acknowledgment, Resolution, Pursuance and Psalm intricately narrates this expression of love and gratitude. Coltrane asked God for the means to make others happy through his music, and nearly six decades later, we are still undeniably inspired by his work.

The nature of music is to express the depth and complexity of human emotion. Regardless of genre, we listen not only to feel something, or be reminded of a time and place, but to also be connected to our fellow man. It is the greatest of equalizers. Further, I believe that as musicians we write music for the same reason, to communicate thoughts and feelings in a way that is on the one hand safe, but also feels like bearing your soul to the world. Complex, indeed. A Love Supreme is a window into the soul and conviction of a man so anchored in his love and understanding of God that not sharing it may have seemed unconscionable. Thus was created a record written with the deepest of love not only for God, but for all people.

In all of music, I’m not sure you could find a more pure and honest inspiration.

In his own words.

3 Comments

  1. I was going to make a similar comment to your Jimi Hendrix post recently. While I appreciate Hendrix, I am not what I would consider a devotee. And I quite like Eric Johnson’s cover of Are You Experienced.

    See, I consider Eric Johnson the best guitar player — but like music as a whole, it’s impossible to say that definitively, for the same reasons you listed here. Further complicating things, I actually like David Gilmour just a bit more than EJ as a guitar player (but the two are near-equal Titans of Strat in my book).

    And it all just seemed to be too difficult try to articulate the other day — even now, I doubt I’m doing all that well. Especially since I’m taking the position that Hendrix is probably a bit overrated, a near sacrilegious position (I’m NOT suggesting he isn’t any good, though… it’s not a binary).

    Anyway, I’ve rambled enough on this and said nothing of value.

    1. On the contrary, I’d definitely consider that a valuable point of view. It speaks directly to the subjectivity of musical tastes. I haven’t heard Eric Johnson’s cover of Are You Experienced, but I’ll look it up. I also think it’s interesting to be able to identify talented musicians across genres rather than pigeonholing just one. I could list my five favorite bass players or drummers and they are scattered through out all music. While Gilmour’s style might share little with Hendrix or Johnson, there is no denying his talent.

      I guess that’s the beauty of musical interpretation. While Hendrix wrote Voodoo Child how many other musicians took that idea and ran with it, making it their own? Some better and some not. You could make a well reasoned argument that Stevie Ray Vaughan’s version is better the original. Go check out his live version from the El Mocambo set. It’s ridiculous. Much in the same way, I would suggest that Tool’s cover of No Quarter expands on and improves upon Led Zeppelin’s original composition. I highly recommend that if you have eleven minutes with nothing to do.

      Perhaps looking at Hendrix through the lens of 2021, with a birds eye view of music before and after, one could argue that he is a bit overrated. Have there been better guitarists since Hendrix? Without a doubt. But considering the time he lived, and the other popular music in circulation during those years, it would be hard to deny that his music was groundbreaking.

      I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on this. It’s always great to hear how other people hear and think about music. Or anything for that matter.

      1. The “across genres” qualifier is massively important, I think. I’ve often thought Criss Oliva the best metal guitar player… But I don’t always listen to metal (and the term itself is pretty broad).

        The lens of perspective is important, which is why I definitely wanted to clarify I was in no way slagging Hendrix off. The man was a talented player and his contributions cannot be ignored… I’m just lucky enough to have lived when there were any number of better players.

        Which brings us to the point of ‘ground breaking’ and the argument there may not be much ground left to break in a given genre.

        I would make time to listen to Tool’s cover of No Quarter. I’ve spent a long time trying to figure out exactly what the draw to Tool is (another point for the subjectivity of music –they’re massively popular, but they don’t generally appeal to me).

        Music is always interesting to discuss since it’s so subjective. My friend and I argued to the point it’s become an in-joke over whether or not Gilmore was a better guitarist than Satriani. 20 years on, he’s admitted he understands why I felt that way — at the time, he was far more interested in the technical aspects of guitar playing (where Satriani is arguably the winner) than in the feel.

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