Coltrane's A Love Supreme Live in Amsterdam
First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2005, Volume 12, #2
Written by John Metzger
In 1964, John Coltrane wrote and recorded A Love Supreme, a four-part song cycle that not only was the pinnacle of his extraordinary career, but also remains one of the most important and influential works by any artist, regardless of genre. Itís not that the suite is overly complex ó its structure is remarkably simple ó but such raw emotion and intense spirituality poured through the music delivered by the saxophonist along with the musicians that surrounded him (pianist McCoy Tyner, drummer Elvin Jones, and bass player Jimmy Garrison) that the piece became something far greater, something far more profound. So perfect is A Love Supreme that Coltrane himself performed it only once ó at the Antibes Jazz Festival in the summer of 1965 ó and it remains so daunting an undertaking that, in the years that followed, scant few others have attempted to reinterpret it.
That makes Branford Marsalisí recent DVD/CD combo platter Coltraneís A Love Supreme Live in Amsterdam a rather gutsy endeavor. For the record, this isnít Marsalisí first attempt at re-imagining Coltraneís greatest achievement, but it is, by far, his most realized as well as his most successful gambit. Where many would approach the piece from a purely egotistical perspective ó thereby missing the point entirely ó Marsalis took a different tact, coming to it from a position of absolute love, devotion, and respect while also surrendering to its spiritual rapture. His initial forays, not surprisingly, were reverential, but with each reiteration of the suite, he and his ensemble moved forward ever so steadily until they discovered the key that unlocked the composition, allowing them to take control of it and bend it to their will.
Recorded on March 30, 2003 at Hollandís Bimhuis Jazz Club, Coltraneís A Love Supreme Live in Amsterdam is the culmination of Marsalisí journey, and it highlights just how attuned to the original recording that his quartet has become. Without a doubt, there are wisps of Coltrane, Tyner, Jones, and Garrisonís performance buried within the music created by their counterparts in the Branford Marsalis Quartet, but it all was delivered in voices that are unique to saxophonist Marsalis, pianist Joey Calderazzo, drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, and bass player Eric Revis. Instead of utilizing Coltraneís composition as an explicit roadmap, the ensemble dug deeper, extracted its primal essence, and painted a more abstract, but no less recognizable, portrait. In other words, the musicians didnít stop at simply playing the music; they actually felt it and permitted it to course through their veins. In the process, they transformed the piece into something that remained true to Coltraneís original vision without sounding like a mere replica. Marsalis alludes to this concept during the interview segments packaged as bonus material on the DVD, but while itís one thing to discuss theoretically the notion of unearthing some hidden intangible aspect, itís a completely different matter to achieve it in actuality.
Indeed, itís astounding not only to hear how the Branford Marsalis Quartet accomplished this feat with such organic grace, but also to witness how the groupís members became swept away by the emotion of their collective performance. Together, they fully explored the dynamics of A Love Supreme, vigorously attacking the fiery moments and quietly finding the breathtaking beauty within the more delicate ones. Through Wattsí mad-dash rhythms darted Marsalisí sweet, searching, and soulful sax; Calderazzoís nimble, butterfly flights; and Revisí earthy bass patterns, and the end result was a startlingly brilliant and magnificently intense religious experience that becomes all the more powerful when one is submersed within the swirling sensations of the DVDís surround sound audio mix. Augmented by an informative dialogue between Marsalis and Alice Coltrane; snippets of the Branford Marsalis Quartetís pre-show, post-show, and backstage banter; and a series of interviews with the band and other jazz musicians about the composition; Coltraneís A Love Supreme Live in Amsterdam is, quite assuredly, the preeminent statement of Branford Marsalisí already distinguished career. While it understandably is impossible for this to be a definitive interpretation of Coltraneís epic masterpiece, itís about as close to that lofty position as one could ever hope to get.
Coltrane's A Love Supreme Live in Amsterdam is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box