We live amid a golden age of archival jazz releases. Or is it becoming a glut? Historically significant tapes seem to be unearthed daily, discovered in attics, pulled off dusty storage-locker shelves, retrieved from under Grandma’s bed—so many that it’s hard to keep track, or maintain excitement. But there can be no disputing that the arrival of this album is a major event. John Coltrane rarely played A Love Supreme in concert; up until 2021, the general public was only aware of a single live recording of the piece in its entirety, as performed by his Classic Quartet in Antibes, France, in the summer of 1965. A few colleagues of Seattle saxophonist and educator Joe Brazil knew that he’d captured a very different performance of Coltrane’s masterwork at that city’s Penthouse club in October ’65 using the venue’s house recording gear, but jazz cognoscenti only learned about it years after Brazil’s death in 2008. Thank the Creator that they did, and that we can now all reap the benefits.
This is not A Love Supreme as you or I or anyone outside that Penthouse audience and Joe Brazil’s circle of friends knows it. It’s more than double the length of the original album version, with extended solos by Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. The Classic Quartet is augmented by three players: tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, alto saxophonist Carlos Ward, and second bassist Donald “Rafael” Garrett. All three have solo spotlights, and their presence takes some of the focus off Coltrane, though he quickly re-establishes his primacy with a ferocious solo on “Resolution” and the more tender playing on “Psalm.” There’s no chanting, but when the reedmen aren’t on their usual instruments, they’re working various percussive devices; what I at first took to be high-frequency microphone feedback later turned out to be bells.
Although not studio-pristine, the sound quality of the stereo tape is more than acceptable, which won’t be much of a surprise to those familiar with past Penthouse recordings released on the Resonance label. One problem: Coltrane is the second-hardest player to hear. The hardest, as usual, is Garrison, who sounds tremendous when the band quiets down but is often completely smothered under the onslaught of Jones and McCoy Tyner. Speaking of McCoy, his lengthy improvisation during a breakneck “Pursuance” is the pinnacle of this set, full of virtuoso dazzle and drama. It’s about as far removed in tone from the patented chicken-squawk of Sanders’ preceding solo as could be imagined, yet both passages offer great rewards.
There are notable longueurs here, times when intense playing morphs into intense listening and everyone seems to be waiting for the next thing to happen. Given Coltrane’s working methods at this time, such moments were inevitable; based on the album’s excellent liner notes by Ashley Kahn, Lewis Porter, and Kevin Reeves, it’s likely that the brand-new septet didn’t rehearse even once beforehand. At the close of “Psalm,” the audience thinks the music’s over and applauds, but the two bassists keep on going till well past the clapping’s done. Eventually, someone (probably Garrett) asks, “Is that the end?” To which Trane cracks, “It better be!”
Awkward (though charming) moments like this ensure that A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle doesn’t threaten the definitive status of its studio relative. But they also perform an important service, reminding us that for John Coltrane, there was no definitive A Love Supreme. The music may have been a holy text, yet what made it holy was that it was forever in progress.