Dec 13, 2014

Hearing the truth in 'A Love Supreme'

John Coltrane's A Love Supreme turned 50 this week. S. Brent Plate writes about the spiritual side of the jazz masterpiece at Religion Dispatches:
Some people don't get it. But for those who do, the religious experience of it all is palpable. Some blend of harmonics and melodics, tradition and improv, mastery and experimentation, makes A Love Supreme one of the great religious movements in modern life. Recorded in a four-hour session on December 9, 1964, with Coltrane on alto saxophone, Jimmy Garrison on bass, McCoy Tyner on piano, and Elvin Jones on drums, the music does not discriminate, inspiring the secular and the spiritual alike.

... What is it about Coltrane, and in particular A Love Supreme, that gets some of us going spiritually? Coltrane was after truth, as one biographer put it, and not necessarily “pleasant listening.” I am attracted to this idea, that truth is difficult and can not easily be possessed. The corollary here is that there is no truth in Musak, and not much in the pop charts. In classical terms “truth” and “beauty” are not interchangeable.

Perhaps more importantly, truth is heard.
In a recent interview, Cornel West called Coltrane "a spiritual giant. He's a love warrior. He's a titan of the soul." West connected the art of A Love Supreme with the theological idea of kenosis, a Greek word the Apostle Paul used to describe how Jesus "made himself nothing." West said that's what Coltrane did too.
He mastered the craft. His technique is beyond description. But he's always speaking from who he is, his kenosis. He empties himself. He gives himself. He uses the gifts that he's honed to try to enable and empower others. And in Love Supreme it all comes together . . . His capacious imagination and his all-embracing sense of experimentation allowed him to listen to sounds everywhere . . . If you really look at the deep expression of humanity in it, Coltrane is a culminating moment.
The anniversary of the album is being celebrated around the country, including in a service at the St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco, this Sunday.