John Coltrane: 'A Love Supreme'

The cover of A Love Supreme

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[MUSIC]

MURRAY HORWITZ, American Film Institute: Musicians throughout history have made religious statements through their music, and jazz musicians are no exception. A.B Spellman, today's selection for our NPR Basic Jazz Record Library is a particularly heartfelt devotion.

A.B. SPELLMAN, National Endowment for the Arts: That's right, Murray. The CD is John Coltrane's A Love Supreme. In the notes, he describes how a religious revelation pulled him out of a life of dissipation. And then he offers us music that is expressive of the mystic that he was becoming through his studies of Eastern music and Eastern religions, particularly Sufism. The CD is a statement of the ecstatic dervish who is willing to surrender the self completely to the divinity.

[MUSIC]

HORWITZ: You know that first cut is so reflective, but at the same time, the music is always outer-directed. I mean that it's directed to us and they swing so hard, through the whole thing.

SPELLMAN: That's right, Murray. It's called "Acknowledgement" (the first cut), and in it, John Coltrane takes a simple four-note theme and puts it through various combinations until it acquires depth and power. And that power intensifies in the second cut, "Resolution." Here, Coltrane uses effects in his high notes that make us feel the ecstasy that burst out of him as he approaches the divinity.

[MUSIC]

SPELLMAN: The third movement, "Pursuance," gives the pianist McCoy Tyner, drummer Elvin Jones, and bassist Jimmy Garrison chances to contribute excellent solos. The group then moves into the lyrical and reflective "Psalm" in which John Coltrane, sounding like a preacher, improvises a saxophone version of "The Poem of Praise" that he published on the record jacket.

[MUSIC]

HORWITZ: So, John Coltrane in A Love Supreme attempts to offer the listener a complete religious experience and, if you're like me, it's one of those records that you can't play everyday of the week. It's for really special, devoted listening. It's on the Impulse! label, and it's part of our NPR Basic Jazz Record Library. For NPR Jazz, I'm Murray Horwitz.

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