I’m making an effort to listen to some of the biggies; classic music albums which have become legends for whatever reason. And that’s exactly what it is sometimes; an effort. A Love Supreme is revered amongst jazz fans as a masterpiece by a man who is himself a bit of a legend; John Coltrane. I’m not much of a jazz fan so the thoughts of listening to this entire album from beginning to end made me feel daunted. That’s the thing, you see, I promised myself that if I do listen to these ‘important’ albums then I’ll listen to them properly; from start to finish, in the correct order, not skipping about like I normally do on Spotify, not listen to half a track then half of another track, not listen while playing a game or writing my shopping list, give them the respect and the time that they deserve. Yes, it was a big effort.
This particular album was probably the hardest one I could have chosen to start with. After five minutes, I started to feel like I was listening to a audio book in Urdu. Shown below is the musical score and also some of Coltrane’s own notes on the album and these too seem like impenetrable hieroglyphics. Jazz is like a foreign language sometimes and I felt like I definitely didn’t speak the lingo. But I hadn’t given myself the option of giving up, like I usually would. I’d vowed to stick it right to the end.
The album is a four-part suite, broken up into tracks; ‘Acknowledgement’ ‘Resolution’, ‘Pursuance’, and ‘Psalm’. The first part is interesting if only for the sound of Coltrane chanting the title of the album over and over. Unexpected. But after that, I hit the wall. The feeling of listening to something which made no sense got stronger. There’s no melody, no familiarity, nothing to latch on to. There doesn’t even seem to be much feeling at this point. This is where, normally, I’d switch off. But I didn’t. Was it worth it?
Yes. The second half is amazing. Maybe you have to go through the groundwork of the first half to prime your ears for the last bit. In the last two sections everything changes. You’re still listening to a foreign language, you still can’t figure any of it out, there’s still no melody and nothing familiar to comfort you. But now there’s emotion.
Everything starts gearing up to an amazing climax. It’s like the band is a living, writhing animal. Where the preceding parts felt stilted and kind of lifeless, now there’s life, lots and lots of life. Now, listening to a foreign language is a great experience and it doesn’t matter that you don’t understand the little symbols on the page. Music and emotion are languages common to everyone.
A Love Supreme is often listed amongst the greatest jazz albums of all time. It’s reported that Coltrane, who struggled with drug addiction, got his inspiration for the album from a near overdose in 1957 which caused him to turn to spirituality which would figure in much of his composing and playing from this point onwards. The album was composed at Coltrane’s home in Dix Hills on Long Island. His quartet played A Love Supreme live only once in July 1965 at a concert in Antibes, France.
I ended up really enjoying it. If I’d carried on listening to music in the same way I normally do, the way many of us do now with the rise of the net; flicking from one track to another, listening to 10 seconds of this and 10 seconds of that, I’d have missed out on an appreciation of something great. Truly good stuff usually demands more than 10 seconds.