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John Coltrane: Offering; Live at Temple University

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John Coltrane’s Nov. 11, 1966, concert at Temple University is the stuff of legend, and not all of it good: The event was sparsely attended; the student group that organized it lost money; people walked out; the music was grating, atonal and irritating; Coltrane didn’t bring his A game. Recordings of the show have circulated for years-nearly 48-via fidelity-challenged bootlegs. Coltrane diehards are familiar with the music; the rest of us, not so much.

In the case of Offering: Live at Temple University, it’s exceedingly difficult to divine the truth from the tale. Coltrane: the grandmaster of the tenor saxophone, the man who has influenced generations of admirers and wannabes. Temple 11/11/66: a strange affair indeed, a night that seems entirely unscripted, entirely free. Here, Coltrane is like the actor who, for once, plays himself when (he thinks) the cameras aren’t rolling, and it’s unsettling. Through his horn, Coltrane screams, squawks, yells, bellows; and yet he also sweetly sings, prays, soothes. But-and this, more than perhaps anything else, is why this night is legendary-he sets aside the horn and beats his chest and vocalizes. Why? The scholars and the superfans obsess: Had he done everything he could with the horn and decided to free himself of an instrument’s restraint? Was he so enthralled by the moment that it was the only thing he could do? Was it rapture? Divine intervention? It is not for us to know. He did it, and here it is, preserved for those of us who weren’t even born by the time it happened and yet are still mystified by it.

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