Despite being John Coltrane’s most celebrated album, and one of the most beloved jazz albums of all time, A Love Supreme wasn’t a record that the saxophonist touched on much in the live setting. Up until now, most Coltrane enthusiasts have only ever heard a single live performance of the literally divinely inspired four-movement suite that makes up the LP, taken from a July 1965 performance at a French festival and first released on a 2002 reissue. That will change in October, when Impulse! will issue another full live version of A Love Supreme, recorded in Seattle in October of ’65.
A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle features an expanded version of Coltrane’s so-called classic quartet, with saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and bassist Donald Rafael Garrett joining pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones. Saxophonist Carlos Ward is heard sitting in as well. Recordings from earlier in the same Seattle run by the group — a six-night stand at the Penthouse — came out on 1971’s classic Live in Seattle LP. Recorded by saxophonist Joe Brazil, whose band shared the bill with Coltrane at these shows, the music heard on A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle remained in Brazil’s archives, mostly unheard, until a local saxophonist, Steve Griggs, discovered it in 2013 following Brazil’s death. The Seattle version runs to more than double the length of the original studio LP, with the opening movement cracking the 20-minute mark and the entire recording exceeding 75 minutes.
Streaming now is the Live in Seattle take of the suite’s final movement, the stirring, ballad-like “Psalm.” It opens with a free-time swell featuring Tyner’s swirling piano, and Jones’ crashing cymbals and rumbling, mallet-struck toms, as Coltrane digs into the somber, gospel-like theme. The piece gradually builds in intensity, with Jones’ drums exploding out of the mix, before ramping down and giving way to a final bowed-bass duet from Garrison and Garrett. We hear one of the musicians ask, “Is that the end?” and Coltrane respond, “It better be!” before the audience breaks into applause.
A Love Supreme has long been hailed as a career pinnacle for Coltrane, one of the most poignant distillations of the musical and spiritual search that consumed him in the years before his death in 1967. “This album is a humble offering to Him,” he wrote in the album’s liner notes. “An attempt to say, ‘Thank you God’ through our work, even as we do in our hearts and with our tongues.”
The album ranked at number 66 on Rolling Stone’s updated 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. “I had never heard anything quite so dynamic and so emotional,” said Nile Rodgers, who placed it at the top of his personal ballot for the list, reflecting on the first time he heard it. He went on to emphasize the primary place that A Love Supreme holds in his personal musical pantheon. “I have a pretty substantial record collection. But if all of those records somehow managed to disappear, and [I only had one] left to listen to for the rest of my life, it would be A Love Supreme.”
A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle is out October 8th. It follows two recent archival John Coltrane releases on Impulse!, Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album and Blue World, as well as well as this year’s Alice Coltrane set Kirtan: Turiya Sings.