A Love Supreme is a 1965 studio album by American jazz saxophonist and bandleader John Coltrane. He recorded the album with his quartet—featuring pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones—in one session on December 9, 1964, at Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.
A Love Supreme was released by Impulse! Records in January 1965 and became a top-selling album for Coltrane, as well as one of jazz's most critically acclaimed recordings. Since then, it has often been viewed as one of the greatest albums of all time, a deeply spiritual work, and Coltrane's masterpiece.
Coltrane's home in Dix Hills, Long Island, has been suggested as the site of inspiration for A Love Supreme. His exposure to Ahmadiyya Islam has also been suggested as a source of influence.
A Love Supreme is a four-part suite, broken up into tracks: "Acknowledgement" (which contains the mantra that gave the suite its name), "Resolution", "Pursuance", and "Psalm". It is intended to be a spiritual album, broadly representative of a personal struggle for purity, and expresses the artist's deep gratitude as he admits to his talent and instrument as being owned not by him but by a spiritual higher power. Coltrane plays exclusively tenor on all parts.
The album begins with the bang of a gong (tam-tam), followed by cymbal washes. Jimmy Garrison follows on bass with the four-note motif which structures the entire movement. Coltrane's solo follows. Besides soloing upon variations of the motif, at one point Coltrane repeats the four notes over and over in different transpositions. After many repetitions, the motif becomes the vocal chant "A Love Supreme", sung by Coltrane (accompanying himself via overdubs).
In the final movement, Coltrane performs what he calls a "musical narration" (Lewis Porter describes it as a "wordless 'recitation'") of a devotional poem he included in the liner notes. That is, Coltrane "plays" the words of the poem on saxophone, but does not actually speak them. Some scholars have suggested that this performance is a homage to the sermons of African-American preachers. The poem (and, in his own way, Coltrane's solo) ends with the cry "Elation. Elegance. Exaltation. All from God. Thank you God. Amen."
Released in January 1965 by Impulse! Records, A Love Supreme became one of the most acclaimed jazz albums of all time and has been widely regarded as Coltrane's masterpiece. It was also quite popular for a jazz record, selling about 500,000 copies by 1970, a number far exceeding Coltrane's typical Impulse! sales of around 30,000. Colin Larkin hailed it as his greatest album and "one of the most profoundly moving records in all of jazz". According to Harvard music scholar Ingrid Monson, the album was an exemplary recording of modal jazz, while Nick Dedina wrote in Rhapsody that the music ranged from free jazz and hard bop to sui generis gospel music in "an epic aural poem to man's place in God's plan". Rolling Stone called it a "legendary album-long hymn of praise" and stated: "the indelible four-note theme of the first movement, 'Acknowledgement,' is the humble foundation of the suite. But Coltrane's majestic, often violent blowing (famously described as 'sheets of sound') is never self-aggrandizing. Aloft with his classic quartet..., Coltrane soars with nothing but gratitude and joy. You can't help but go with him." It was widely accepted as a work of deep spirituality and analyzed with religious subtext, although cultural studies scholars Richard W. Santana and Gregory Erickson argued that the "avant-garde jazz suite" could be interpreted as otherwise strictly based on the music being heard.
A Love Supreme has been viewed as one of the greatest albums of all time; according to Acclaimed Music, it is the 68th most frequently ranked record on critics' all-time lists. In 2003, it was ranked number 47 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time; NME ranked it number 188 on a similar list 10 years later. The manuscript for the album was admitted as one of the National Museum of American History's "Treasures of American History", part of the collection at the Smithsonian Institution. In 2016, the album was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry due to its "cultural, historic, or artistic significance." It was also included in Robert Dimery's 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
According to Joachim-Ernst Berendt, the album's hymn-like quality impacted and permeated modern jazz and rock music. Musicians ranging from tenor Joshua Redman to the rock band U2, (which mentions the album in their song "Angel of Harlem",) have singled out the influence of the album on their own work. Guitarists John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana have each credited the album as one of their greatest early influences, and recorded Love Devotion Surrender in 1973 as a tribute. "Every so often this ceases to be a jazz record and is more avant-garde contemporary classical," remarked Neil Hannon, frontman of The Divine Comedy. "I love the combination of abstract piano that's all sort of 'clang', and weird chords with wailing saxophone over the top."
In The Penguin Guide to Jazz, writers Richard Cook and Brian Morton gave A Love Supreme a rare "crown" rating, but mused whether it was "the greatest jazz album of the modern period ... or the most overrated?" Miles Davis, Coltrane's former bandleader, said the record "reached out and influenced those people who were into peace. Hippies and people like that". In a lukewarm retrospective review, Martin Gayford from The Daily Telegraph argued that it "marked the point at which jazz—for good or ill—ceased for a while to be hip and cool, becoming instead mystical and messianic". If a listener is "in the mood", he wrote, "it's majestic and compelling; if you're not, it's interminable and pretentious."
An alternative version of "Acknowledgement" was recorded the next day on December 10. This version, which included tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp and bassist Art Davis, did not feature Coltrane chanting "a love supreme", one reason he chose to issue the quartet version.
The only recorded live performance of the "Love Supreme" suite, from a July 26, 1965, performance at the Festival Mondial du Jazz Antibes, Juan-les-Pins, France, was also remastered and released in a 2002 two-CD set by Impulse! Records with the original album and additional studio outtakes.
All tracks composed by John Coltrane and published by Jowcol Music (BMI)Side one
Disc 1 – The Original Stereo Album, Impulse! AS-77
– Trane's Original Mono Reference Masters
- "Acknowledgement" – 7:42
- "Resolution" – 7:20
- "Pursuance" – 10:41
- "Psalm" – 7:05
Disc 2 – Quartet Session, December 9, 1964
- "Pursuance" – 10:42
- "Psalm" – 7:02
– Sextet Session, December 10, 1964
- "Acknowledgement" (vocal overdub 2) – 2:00
- "Acknowledgement" (vocal overdub 3) – 2:05
- "Resolution" (take 4/ alternate) – 7:25
- "Resolution" (take 6/ breakdown) – 2:13
- "Psalm" (undubbed version) – 6:59
Disc 3 – Live at Festival Mondial du Jazz Antibes, July 26, 1965
- "Acknowledgement" (Take 1 / alternate) – 9:24
- "Acknowledgement" (Take 2 / alternate) – 9:47
- "Acknowledgement" (Take 3 / breakdown with studio dialogue) – 1:26
- "Acknowledgement" (Take 4 / alternate) – 9:04
- "Acknowledgement" (Take 5 / false start) – 0:34
- "Acknowledgement" (Take 6 / alternate) – 12:33
John Coltrane – bandleader, liner notes, vocals, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Jimmy Garrison – double bass
Elvin Jones – drums, gong, timpani
McCoy Tyner – piano
Archie Shepp – tenor saxophone on alternate takes of "Acknowledgement"
Art Davis – double bass on alternate takes of "Acknowledgement"
Rudy Van Gelder – engineering and mastering
Bob Thiele – production and cover photo
George Gray/Viceroy – cover design
Victor Kalin – illustration
Joe Lebow – liner design
- Introduction by André Francis and John Coltrane – 1:13
- "Acknowledgement (Live)" – 6:12
- "Resolution (Live)" – 11:37
- "Pursuance (Live)" – 21:30
- "Psalm (Live)" – 8:49