‘A Love Supreme” (Impulse!) is the masterwork of saxophone great John Coltrane and a cornerstone recording of any jazz collection. In a concise 33 minutes, the 1965 release ranges from solemn and introspective to ecstatic and flamboyant, and it features some of the finest playing of Coltrane’s signature group, a quartet that included pianist McCoy
Tyner, drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison; they are often called the classic quartet. To celebrate the album’s 50th anniversary, the Verve Music Group has just released “A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters”—three discs that show some of the inner workings of the band making the recording, reveal some previously unreleased tracks with an expanded group, and offer the only known live performance of the work by the quartet.
All too often, landmark jazz reissues are only an opportunity for obsessive fans to parse a musician’s thinking on certain tracks. Alternate takes give a glimpse into whether a solo should follow one path or another. But “A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters” goes well beyond that, capturing Coltrane at a pivotal moment. The music on these discs offers a rare opportunity to hear the transition from the most revered part of Coltrane’s career into its most controversial period when he embraced the many tenets of the jazz avant garde.
The three discs deliver a potent narrative of a
great musician looking inward and outward. The four tracks of the original recording, “Acknowledgement,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance” and “Psalm,” trace Coltrane’s inquiry into the root of his creativity, a subject that had fascinated him for many years. Recording began on Dec. 9, 1964, and the reissue includes some alternate takes from those first sessions, but the revelations begin with the material from the following day. Coltrane added a second bassist, Art Davis, and saxophonist Archie Shepp. This reissue includes six takes of “Acknowledgement,” four of which were previously unreleased, that show both the increased rhythmic intensity from the bassists and the looping sound of the second saxophonist. The interaction of the two horn players prefigures the new group Coltrane would form over the course of the following year that featured a second saxophonist, Pharoah Sanders.
That direction is underscored on the third disc, which features the only known live performance of the work by the classic quartet. On it, Coltrane’s solos veer into riveting dissonances, and the solos by Garrison, Jones and Mr. Tyner are forceful and compelling. They expand the range and emotion of the original.
“A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters” offers an impressive range of material that enlarges a canonical and popular work in new and exciting ways.
Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.