“Elation. Elegance. Exaltation. All from God. Thank you God. Amen.” John Coltrane
“It also marks a return to religious ritual, which is where Afro-American music had begun, in the gospel church.” Martin Gayford
“Flirt with me don’t keep hurtin’ me, don’t cause me pain, be my lover don’t play no game, just play me John Coltrane” Lucinda Williams
John Coltrane ruminated on the concept of love in his 4-part suite, A Love Supreme. The album was a declaration that his musical devotion was now intertwined with his faith in God. It mirrors Coltrane’s spiritual quest; Coltrane himself stating, “I entered into a phase which is contradictory to the pledge and away from the esteemed path. But thankfully now, through the merciful hand of God, I do perceive and have been fully reinformed of his omnipotence. It is truly a love supreme.”
Coltrane’s album is entirely dedicated to this love supreme, the force that he channelled in the music. Coltrane’s path away from his days of drug abuse was a spiritual one, but it’s almost certain it was aided by a realisation that addressing life’s challenges through conflict (internal or external) is almost always futile. It’s likely that as with many other Jazz musicians of his generation Coltrane’s problems with drug addiction were related to an inability to navigate life’s difficulties, its conflicts, and its apparent lack of logic. Difficult people, difficult circumstances, anger at the treatment of his race at that time.
When Coltrane accepted that love was to lead him rather than conflict, he began his spiritual awakening and musical reawakening. He was assisted in this realisation by a higher power that, in the words of Van Morrison can “lift you up, turn you around and put your feet back on higher ground”. Coltrane reached this higher ground and when he did it was magically encapsulated in the A Love Supreme recording session.
The resultant record sees him ruminating on that higher presence. It is a reminder that embracing a doctrine of love, a word over-used and made trite by many pop lyrics and greetings card companies, is a deep process. It is the realisation that loving one’s enemy, a response that often goes against every instinct, is the spark of the divine in humanity. That ability, to transcend daily conflict, is a magical transformative influence.
It is the message of the Sermon on the Mount, a life of discipline based on the new law of love, a love that must apply even to enemies: distinct from the old law of retribution.
A Love Supreme, lasting just over 33 minutes, sees Coltrane channel all these ideas. He enshrines the concept in an album that serves as a testament for the generations of his musical achievement. The album would be recorded amazingly easily – all in one evening in a darkly lit room, mostly in one take, with less than an hour’s tape used in total. Lightening captured in a bottle.
When he revisited the work again in subsequent recording sessions it was impossible to re-create the poise and mysticism of the original session.
In an album dedicated to the musician channelling the divine, it seems that it was a case of confirming the statement from the Book of Job, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away”.