John Coltrane ‘A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle’ LP/CD (Impulse!) 5/5

First of all I have to say that this hitherto unimagined, let alone unknown, live recording of John Coltrane’s most famous work is both incredible and incredibly frustrating in (almost) equal measure. I’ll come to the frustrating bit later, but for now, let’s look at the incredible part.

If we put aside the fact that no one even dared to dream that such a recording might exist, which alone would be enough to make it incredible, the music itself is revelatory, showing just how much Coltrane’s music had begun to expand and broaden out during the past year or so.
Whilst the time/beat was still present it wasn’t stated in anything approaching an obvious manner by the present group. Mostly they play around it, over it and under it, without ignoring its presence completely. A perfect example of this can be heard in the recording from 2nd August 1965 (Exactly 2 months before this recording) in Comblain-la-Tour, of ‘Naima’, where the form and the time is never lost but subjugated to an almost unnecessary aspect of the music. Trane himself had mentioned this approach at least as early as 1962 where he talked about having the group play time in a more implied way, rather than explicitly stating the beat.

The group heard here, on 2nd October 1965, is still the “Classic Quartet” with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones, but Pharoah Sanders had just recently joined on tenor saxophone and the group is further augmented by having Carlos Ward on alto saxophone on one song and Donald Rafael Garret on bass. This was part of Trane’s continuing expansion of the group sound in terms of instrumentation and musical diversity. There is also a fair amount of percussion – cowbell, guiro, wood blocks etc, on Part 1 – Acknowledgement, which adds a really nice element to the music. There are photos from an early 1967 studio recording session which show various percussion instruments lying at Trane’s feet: tambourines, bells and guiros, but the recordings from that session are missing and unaccounted for as yet. Parts of this Seattle recording give us a tantalising glimpse into what that recording session might sound like.

The whole of the A Love Supreme suite had been played by the quartet (and recorded) just a couple of months previous to this club date, at the Antibes Jazz Festival in Juans Les Pins in southern France. But Trane himself expressed his own dissatisfaction with that performance to writer Randi Hultin, and, as strong as the performance is, it does come across as being slightly rushed, or maybe not quite as stately as it might have been. This concert is a very different matter though, everyone sounds completely at home and relaxed and the ensuing music is magnificent in its concept and execution.

The actual recording itself is the source of my frustration, however. Recorded in stereo by musician Joe Brazil using two microphones, the instruments are actually recorded very well indeed and come across very natural sounding and with a nice presence and dynamic range, top quality even. But the placement of the two mics must have been less than ideal, in part because all the instruments except the piano are in the left channel with the piano sounding slightly lonesome in the right channel. But that in itself isn’t that much of a problem, the big frustration is that the horns, and especially Trane’s horn, are off mic for the entire concert. You can hear the horns clearly, but being just a little (well ok, quite a bit…) out of range from the mic, the full dynamic effect of the music doesn’t quite come across to the listener. Which is a real shame of course, but I’m still rejoicing that this music actually exists at all, and I’m determined not to let the slightly flawed quality of the recording take anything away from the music.

So, to the music.

The music, it has to be said, is nothing short of glorious, Trane is on absolutely top form, (when was he ever not…) weaving solos of incredible energy and beauty, which is apparent even with the less than ideal recording quality.
Pharoah Sanders plays an excellent solo on Part III – Pursuance, after Trane plays the melody, which takes him all of 20 seconds, Sanders jumps in so seamlessly that you might be forgiven for thinking that it’s actually Coltrane using Pharoah’s approach and style. In fact, Sanders plays really great throughout, his solos seem to have more logic and form than most of his recorded output with Coltrane’s group. Maybe it was because the group still acknowledged the time/beat even without specifically playing it, and after Jones and Tyner left that aspect was absent, but who knows, maybe it was just one of those unfathomably great nights, the music certainly sounds that way.
Carlos Ward turns in a great solo on Part II – Resolution, and the bassists play together beautifully, their duet on ‘Interlude 1’ is full of brotherly love, no one is letting their ego get in the way of the proceedings, just beautiful, pure music.

So this is a monumental recording, in many ways, but the overriding factor is, of course, the music itself, and despite the less than perfect audio quality it has to be admitted that this is an indisputably great, and incredible, recording that I unhesitatingly recommend to anyone and everyone.

Nat Birchall

Read also:
John Coltrane ‘Blue World’ LP/CD (Impulse!) 5/5
John Coltrane ‘A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters’ 3CD (Impulse!) 5/5
John Coltrane ‘The Impulse! Albums: Volume Three.’ 5CD (Impulse!) 5/5