A live version of the best Coltrane jazz album emerges

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Much like many listeners who tried to immerse themselves in jazz from a musical experience deeply rooted in classic rock and rock’n’roll of the 1960s and 1970s, my introductory albums to the genre were Miles Davis. Kind of blue and that of John Coltrane Supreme love. I was in my late teens or early twenties.

Last month, the release of a phenomenal live version of Supreme love, a reinterpretation recorded in October 1965, transported me once again to this time. Davis’ 1959 album is kind of an easy way to dive into jazz. Ironic, because over the course of his nearly 50-year career, Davis has traveled, mostly brilliantly, from style to style, reinventing himself so much that his influence on jazz as well as other genres has remained limitless. . Kind of blue is an album of a different kind. Even if you are unfamiliar with jazz, it can convert you.

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This is the kind of album where the tunes quickly become familiar and soon you can recognize the song every time it is played. The tone is set from the very first bass line of the opening song, followed by piano and horn. It helps that it’s a bunch of geniuses: Davis is on trumpet, sure, but there’s Cannonball Adderley on alto sax, Coltrane on tenor sax, Paul Chambers on double bass, Jimmy Cobb on drums, and Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly at the piano. No one tries to outshine others. And it is a well documented fact that Davis did not go to rehearse before a recording. He played harmonic sketches for the members of his group, who would improvise on them during the recording.

Kind of blue is found on many prestigious lists of great albums of all time; many critics even see it as perhaps the best jazz album of all time, although there may be another candidate for the job: Coltrane’s. Supreme love. Protected from Davis, Coltrane, recognized as one of the best jazz saxophonists, had a short but tumultuous career. He was part of Davis’ group but was previously sacked by the great trumpeter, possibly because he showed up drunk and disheveled for a gig.

Coltrane died prematurely at age 40, in 1967. But in recent years he has recorded albums that have established him as one of the greatest saxophonists and conductors in jazz. The highlight of his career is Supreme love. Recorded in 1965, it featured the classical Coltrane quartet, consisting of Jimmy Garrison on bass, Elvin Jones on drums and percussion, and McCoy Tyner on piano. The album, revered by musicians and listeners, marks an epiphanic moment in Coltrane’s life when he gives up alcohol and drugs and embraces spiritualism.

It is a suite of four arias. The first one, Acknowledgement, presents Coltrane chanting the phrase “Supreme love», Giving the album its name and setting the tone for a deeply immersive and calming composition that can transport the listener to a deeply spiritual state. While Kind of blue and Supreme love are both recognized as brilliant albums, the former is often cited as a definitive jazz album where Davis creates a form known as modal jazz: no chord changes, as in the previous bop form of jazz, but a style where there is a single tonal or center harmonic from which each player improvises.

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It’s a calming album that has become over time – at least for me – something that I can play even in the background. Supreme love is different. If it also belongs to the category “modal jazz”, it is deeply hymnal. And it is a break with the previous works of Coltrane which were marked by a style of play more aggressive, even violent. Its four pieces have a single central key, the improvisations, in particular by the saxophone of Coltrane (which always has an astonishing vocal quality), take the listeners on a whole different kind of journey where the harmony and the melody evolve towards a hint of free jazz adventurism— enough to always appeal to the listener.

Oddly enough, Coltrane didn’t often perform the tunes of the album live. There was a recording of Paris but not much else. Until last month, when Supreme Love: Living in Seattle, a surprising reinterpretation recorded in Seattle, USA, over half a century ago, has been released.

In addition to the classical quartet, it includes a (then) 24-year-old Pharoah Sanders on tenor saxophone, Carlos Ward on alto saxophone and an additional bassist, Donald Garrett. The original Supreme love lasted about 32 minutes. The Living in Seattle version is a glorious 75 minutes, with eight tracks instead of four.

The real difference is in the music. The first track, Acknowledgement, is 22 minutes long (the original was less than eight) and begins with two basslines before slowly developing into the familiar melody, preceded by numerous tangential improvisations. And that also goes for the rest of the songs. The album marks Coltrane’s relentless urge to step out of familiar ground and move towards freer jazz formats, a fulcrum that sets the stage for his subsequent albums and performances. Unfortunately, there weren’t too many to come – he died two years later.

Listening to the Seattle recording can be a much appreciated return to the spiritual character of the original. Supreme love, interpreted in a looser and quite pleasantly improvised way.

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First Beat is a column on what’s new and groovy in the world of music.

@sanjoynarayan

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