What can be said of Coltrane's transcendent 'A Love Supreme' that hasn't already been spoken or written? A great deal, I'm sure. But first you have to enter its extraordinary sound world. That is by far the most important thing: to take the suite on its terms, and to be prepared to alter your expectations and presuppositions accordingly. For, as Robert Fripp would put it, it is a music that invites you into its presence. It is there way before you are. And its transformation of jazz is still not finished.
As most reading this will know, the studio version is tracked by a full live rendition (issued independently on CD in 2000) from the Antibes jazz festival 1965. You need to check that out too, and the remastered Impulse recordings -- based on new master tapes released in October 2002 -- are perhaps the best place to begin. But you might be intrigued by this, dense compressed version, which is all we had from the studio until more recently.
Wherever you start, 'A Love Supreme' still retains the capacity to surprise, entice and delight even the most over-taxed ears; surely a true testimony to its greatness. Winnowing sax, uncomplicated melodic sophistication, subtle modal delights, percussive ingenuity (not just from the drummer) and a spirit of blazing but well-tempered spiritual passion make these inter-twining tracks what they are: wholly entrancing.
To add to the delight of discovery there is also a new book which helps to fill in the background to the album, the era that witnessed its birth and the creative force behind it. ‘A Love Supreme: The Creation of John Coltrane’s Classic Album’ by Ashley Kahn (Granta Books 2002 (ISBN: 186207545X), has a Foreword by percussion legend Elvin Jones. It is full of information and insight, of course. But it is best to begin with those magical notes...