Monday, December 12, 2011

John Coltrane: A Love Supreme (1964)


(Impulse!)

!!! A+ RECORDING !!!

Somewhere on Long Island on December 9, 1964, this was recorded. The bang of a gong signals thirty-three minutes of transporting music, the sort of work that can make the agnostic believe -- not because it's simply so good it forces piousness but because the music itself exudes the idea of spirituality, of a great artist's surrender to a maybe incorrect but vivid and single-minded notion that he does not control his own gifts. The words that come out, the lyricism of his saxophone, the skittering wonder of his solos and arrangements -- these have the feel of something beyond mortal understanding.

That's the non-artist's perception of the artist talking. Someone like Coltrane is to us indistinguishable from a magician, so that the rational aspects of A Love Supreme's creation, something so far beyond mere criticism and parsing out in words, attain a mythical and almost holy aspect. You don't have to be religious to gather the grandness of the mantra, the reaching out toward the heavens in every second and every note... because even if you're not, an LP like this becomes your text of worship, your own deep and throttled awakening.

"Acknowledgement," lifting the curtain and letting us swim in its grace and love, and "Psalm," leaving us reeling from its manic mysticism and gradual bending toward some emotional abyss. But without the two central songs, neither song receives its tonal counterpoint. The virtuosity of "Resolution" fulfills every notion of avant garde jazz with its unrelentingly gorgeous, evocative melodic lines that roll back into simultaneous unease and closure. Theoretically wilder but more contained and elegantly beautiful still is "Pursuance," a musical descent into chaos that never seems unrestrained or without design, the ultimate evolutionary connect-the-dots into strangely perfect noise, all the way down to Jimmy Garrison's startling bass solo. The four cuts each resolve one of the others, the two sides a complete moment unto themselves -- but the entire half hour in sequence is so lovely and strange as to be next to unbearable. With no exaggeration, this is as wonderful as American art gets.

The music is all awash with joy. It's such a perfect mess of contradiction: messy and aggressive, defiantly artistic, but succinct and careful -- technically ideal, even, but never bristling before its passion. A Love Supreme lends us no worldly deconstruction of its emotions. Like all great art, it doesn't need to because it is emotion -- everything pure and right, everything completely fulfilled as Coltrane's but finally no one's but ours.

[SEE ALSO:]
Giant Steps (1960)

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