(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN COLTRANE'S "ACKNOWLEDGEMENT")
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
It's one of the towering compositions in jazz history, John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme," a musical expression of Coltrane's gratitude for God's love. He hardly ever performed this music after its release at the beginning of 1965, and live recordings of the work were believed to be extremely rare. But an obscure set of tapes has quietly sat in private hands for over 55 years. And Coltrane's label, Impulse!, announced today that it will see release as an album in October. Here's an early listen.
(SOUNDBITE JOHN COLTRANE'S "A LOVE SUPREME, PART IV - PSALM")
FADEL: Nate Chinen of Jazz Night in America is one of the few people who's heard this entire recording, and he's with us now. Welcome.
NATE CHINEN, BYLINE: Hello.
FADEL: So you've called this an immensely significant release. Why?
CHINEN: This is really like a Da Vinci scholar discovering another "Mona Lisa," but one with its own power and magnetism and an ability to even shed new light on the original.
FADEL: So where did these tapes come from, and where have they been?
CHINEN: We owe this discovery to a man named Joe Brazil, who was a saxophonist based in Seattle. And his band opened for Coltrane's at a club in Seattle called The Penthouse in October of 1965. And Brazil had a habit of recording his sets, and there was a really good house recording setup at The Penthouse. So he kept the tape rolling for Coltrane's performance, and then he carefully preserved those tapes, almost like a kind of Holy Grail. Coltrane died just two years after this, and Joe Brazil never circulated the tapes as a bootleg. He really only played them for a select few people. And when he died in 2008, it took several years before the tapes were found in his archive. And then it's just been a matter of securing rights and permissions from the Coltrane estate, you know, to be sure that they're properly honoring his memory.
FADEL: Now, you've listened to this recording. And apart from its rarity, what makes it so special?
CHINEN: Well, anyone who has studied the life of Coltrane knows he was just the ultimate searcher. And when you look at his career, this period right here, the fall of 1965, his art and his music was changing so rapidly. You know, he was just hurtling through evolution here.
FADEL: So it sounds like these tapes capture a moment of transition for Coltrane.
CHINEN: Yes, I think they definitely do. And, you know, you could say that about almost everything that Coltrane was up to in '65. But this recording - you know, what's so amazing about it to me is because you have the instantly recognizable themes and motifs from "A Love Supreme," you have this kind of center of gravity. You hear a shifting tension between form and abstraction, you know, or what a lot of jazz people would call inside and out. And there's just so much energy being transferred onstage - you know, the sense that the musicians are radiating outward from this melodic core.
FADEL: Does this new recording change the legacy of "A Love Supreme" in some way?
CHINEN: You know, it's always really fascinating when you are able to see something so familiar in a new light. You know, "A Love Supreme" was truly Coltrane's most fully intentioned piece of art. And so what's interesting here is that he's approaching that material again, and he's granting enormous license to all the musicians. You know, he's really subjecting that suite to whatever they've got, you know, like their most radical urges. And so you find the music being sort of pulled and stretched. And, you know, it's under enormous pressure in a certain way. But you never lose the thread. There's an incredible - just an incredibly potent sort of life force in this music. You can feel the music breathing. You can feel the spirit move.
(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN COLTRANE'S "A LOVE SUPREME, PART IV - PSALM")
FADEL: That's Nate Chinen of WBGO and Jazz Night in America. A recently discovered live recording of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" will be released in October.
Nate, thank you.
CHINEN: My pleasure. Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.