In February 1965 John Coltrane released a piece of music that still to this day inspires, confuses and challenges musicians and listeners alike, A Love Supreme was a musical testament to the spiritual journey that Coltrane had embarked upon since recovering from his addiction to heroin in the late 1950's. Not only did it represent a spiritual awakening it also was also a reaffirmation of his musical path, one of improvisation and exploration that matched his own personal spiritual goals.
Coltrane had reached an impasse by the mid 1950's his drug addiction was making it difficult for him to work, he was wanting to push the boundaries of melodic and rhythmic improvisation which in turn was causing resentment especially in the conservative jazz press. In this climate of uncertainty Coltrane turned within, philosophy and spirituality, not necessarily organised religion, began to give him an insight on where and how he wanted to pursue his music. The 1959 release of Giant Steps saw Coltrane begin that journey, he may have also been aided in his work with Miles Davis during the Kind Of Blue sessions during that period. It took some time for Coltrane to find the right musical aggregation, in 1962 his classic quartet was in place, Jimmy Garrison on bass, McCoy Tyner on piano and Elvin Jones on drums. Jones added an explosive element to the rhythm his playing was fierce and atmospheric and he was perfect foil for Coltrane.
A Love Supreme was recorded at Rudy Van Gellar's New Jersey studio in December 1964 and produced by the legendary producer Bob Thiele, the album is a four part suite beginning with Acknowledgement which begins with a crashing gong before Elvin plays cascading rhythms on the cymbals. Jimmy Garrison plays a four note repeat that underpins the track, Tyner is an amazing pianist he countered the more open sounds of Coltrane with a more melodic undertone. Coltrane also plays variations of that four note repeat which forms the basis of a mantra A Love Supreme which Coltrane voices. Resolution the second suite begins with a Garrison solo before Coltrane opens up the tune, this has a more structured tone Coltrane's solo is more restrained at the beginning. Tyner displays it all, cascading runs and blues motifs. Elvin Jones adds a sense of unrestrained urgency to the song, crashing and pounding the perfect platform is created for Coltrane's wall of sound.
Pursuance the third part starts with a Jones solo that demonstrates why he was such an admired and influential drummer, not just in jazz circles but in wider popular music. If you listen to the work of acts like Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Allman Bros etc their drummers were all inspired by Elvin Jones. Pursuance has a more urgent tempo like the quartet are chasing something, Tyner is especially manic in his solo. In the final movement Psalm Coltrane performs what he called a "musical narration" of a devotional poem that is included in the albums liner notes. Coltrane's solo is more pronounced and softer it sounds like an inner peace has been reached.
On it's release the effect of this album was almost immediate, certainly in jazz circles, but it's influence was also felt more widely and perhaps in a manner unforeseen. A number of rock bands from the period mentioned the album as an influence, Duane Allman was one of those taken with the possibilities that the album opened up. In the same way jazz musicians questioned accepted boundaries so to did musicians in other settings from the likes of the Paul Butterfield Blues band with their classic East/West composition to the Quicksliver Messenger Service on the West Coast with their four part reworking of Bo Diddley's Who Do You Love. A number of the late 60's rock bands whether they were part of the West Coast Psychedelia or the traditional blues stylings of Chicago or the growing country rock of the south embraced the notion of improvisation and freedom. Just as they were keen to push boundaries in society in regards to sex and drugs they were also looking to challenge the musical establishment on how music could be performed and played.