Tuesday, 22 September 2015

John Coltrane's A Love Supreme

John Coltrane's A Love Supreme was released 50 years ago (Feb '65) but I don't recall any fuss made about the anniversary - perhaps I missed it. Perhaps fans lit candles and flooded the internet. I don't know many Jazz fans. The one I know best left Britain, but when he lived here, in the early 80s, I converted him to Jazz via a series of sermons held in my bedsit, one of which would have involved playing A Love Supreme, for sure.

Playing music you love to others doesn't guarantee appreciation, of course, but we picked up so much through friends in those days before the internet. I once started to play Astral Weeks to a friend but he protested so much we had to turn it off.

A Love Supreme is one of those albums, you know, the kind that turn up on lists compiled by critics who don't listen to much Jazz. It's broken through the barrier, out of the Jazz ghetto, you might say. At times I've cursed these casual fans but these days I don't care. What does it matter? Jazz is easy to get sanctimonious about, especially in the case of such a 'religious' experience as this. Such was the case for Coltrane anyway, but like great Gospel music, you don't have to believe to believe in the music.

Whilst A Love Supreme helped spark the kind of devotion that others understandably find a little sickening, I can't play it today without the spirit being reawakened. From the opening drum pattern played by Elvin Jones before that bass line from Jimmy Garrison and Coltrane's entry, I reconnect with something of the feeling it inspired over 30 years ago.

What 'feeling'? Awe, I suppose. Growing up with Pop as most people do before exploring, let's say 'heavier' music, nothing prepared me for A Love Supreme. What could? Most music I'd heard depended on rhythm, riffs and songs. Now here was rhythm, even a tune and almost a song (the chant), but together forming something else, from another world, so it seemed.

Jazz was always from another world for me, growing up in England. Not just geographically, but somehow psychologically; a past world that was foreign and mysterious, cool and hot. Defiance in the face of segregation, the style, attitude and determination to make music, whether swinging or swerving off the rails; it all proved inspirational. Whilst Punk echoed the realities of my frustration and anger, Jazz provided a way out, far out - an escape to a place away from the numbers and into music that could not be tainted, co-opted by The Man. It's more approachable works have long been appropriated for commercial use, but so much remains untouchable. Despite its appearance on Rock critics' lists, A Love Supreme is one such example.

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