If you only own the original studio release of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme then the 2015 three-disk release “A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters” will be a revelatory experience.
Everything changed for Coltrane in 1957 when Coltrane stopped drinking and kicked heroin and from that point forward his career would unfold with a focused intensity. The sessions which made up the original 33 minute LP of A Love Supreme were recorded in a single day on December 9, 1965. The four-part suite was inspired by what Coltrane described as a spiritual awakening he experienced in 1957.
It’s the sound of a man laying his soul bare.
Structured as a suite and delivered in praise of God, everything about the record is designed for maximum emotional impact, from Elvin Jones’ opening gong crash to the soft rain of McCoy Tyner’s piano clusters to Coltrane’s stately fanfare to Jimmy Garrison’s iconic four-note bass line to the spoken chant that carries out the opening movement, “Acknowledgement”. By the time the record gets to the closing “Psalm,” which finds Coltrane interpreting on his saxophone the syllables of a poem he had written to the Creator, A Love Supreme has wrung its concept dry, extracting every drop of feeling from Coltrane’s initial vision.
But Coltrane evidently had more in mind. The very next day, he returned to the studio to try out different approaches.
This collection includes the original 33 minutes, plus the only live recording of the suite, made on July 26, 1965, in Antibes, which was released previously in 2002 in A Love Supreme: Deluxe Edition (Impulse!). That live date is remarkable for Jimmy Garrison’s bass solo, which is arguably superior to his take on the studio session.
Also included are the original mono masters of “Part III -Pursuance” and “Part IV -Psalm,” pieces and parts, false starts and alternate takes and overdubs of the quartet’s recording session.
The new discovery from this release is the December 10, 1964, sextet session with the inclusion of saxophonist Archie Shepp and bassist Art Davis. As with his invitations to Eric Dolphy and Pharoah Sanders to perform with the quartet, Shepp and Davis bring their own influences to the music. Listening back to these four takes and two false starts of “Part I -Acknowledgment,” you can grasp how Coltrane was unremittingly open to the expansion of his writing. Shepp’s rawness and the two-edged bass approach hint at the possibilities of Coltrane playing this music live in concert. He ultimately decided to master just the quartet’s version, we can theorize, because it is the closest thing to perfection he had ever produced.