CELEBRATING
50 YEARS

John Coltrane: A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters

Veteran jazz fans probably do not often listen to A Love Supreme, saxophonist John Coltrane’s unfathomably important 1965 album of passionate, spiritual jazz. They internalized the LP, performed by Trane’s “Classic Quartet”-pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, drummer Elvin Jones and the leader on tenor-long ago. But now there’s a reason to revisit.

In honor of its 50th birthday, the album has been reissued as part of an essential new set titled A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters. A two-CD version includes the album, a pair of mono reference masters and all the leftover takes and overdubs from the sessions; a three-discer tosses in a live reading of Supreme-the sole one we have, also from ’65-by the same personnel as on the album. (Both editions feature a new liner essay by Ashley Kahn.) Most of the music here, including the epic gig, has already been released, but the tracks we haven’t heard before are intriguing, and the experience of hearing all of A Love Supreme in one program is staggering. If you haven’t listened to this masterpiece in a while, what better way to dive back in than by going all the way?

As far as previously unreleased material, there are nine tracks here. The two mono reference masters, “Pursuance” and “Psalm,” sound nice and raw. The take of “Psalm” before Trane overdubbed alto sax is cool to have, if unnecessary. And the two tracks where the leader adds the album’s famous chant-“A love supreme/A love supreme”-to the end of “Acknowledgement” are interesting because the lines only wound up appearing near the beginning of the song.

But the real score of the set is the four extra takes of “Acknowledgement” from the second and final day of the sessions, when the band became a sextet also featuring bassist Art Davis and tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp. (Two other takes of “Acknowledgement” from this day and with this lineup were previously released.) One take finds the group playing a little bit and discussing how to count the song. Another is halted after less than a minute of music.

But then there are two full sextet takes of “Acknowledgement” where one can really envision the opening cut from A Love Supreme with two bassists and two tenor saxophonists. (One wonders if Trane had at any point planned to re-record the entire album with Shepp and Davis. The album as we know it had been recorded on day one.) Take 6 is a bit too meandering to be truly potent, but take 4 makes a strong case for this sextet that never was. Trane and Shepp share the sax space beautifully. The bassists sound great together. And the group sound seems to be saying something about unity and community and collaboration rather than the well-established theme of A Love Supreme, inner spirituality. Speaking strictly musically, too, there is something new on takes 4 and 6: Both pieces feature a bouncy variation on the iconic “Acknowledgement” bassline, which according to cultural memory matches the “A love supreme” chant. Who was John Coltrane if not an improviser?

Originally Published