Tuesday, April 8, 2008

John Coltrane, David Borgo, Branford Marsalis...

John Coletrane: A Love Supreme

My introduction to Coltrane was back in high school through an older friend who had been exploring Jazz for a few years. Being an initiate, I was heavily influenced by the opinions of those that “knew” jazz, those that understood the reasons behind the seemingly chaotic rhythms and the notes that sounded smeared or even incorrect. Perhaps it was my friend’s opinion, or simply one that he had picked up from talking with others that knew more than he, but I was told that the Gods of Jazz included John Coltrane.

From my first listening I was sure that I was listening to something great, even if I didn’t fully understand why it was so. I had some half-formed idea of what Jazz was and A Love Supreme seemed to fit: it was expressive in a way that other types of music simply didn’t come close to. Also, the length of the album seemed to hint at a masterwork done by a legend in his prime- it was too complicated and abstract (to my ears) for it to be anything else. And then there was the weight of the name by itself... Coltrane… do gods ever do anything short of the sublime?

Listening to it now with the Article of Borgo in mind, the religious aspects of the song are fitting. Here is something that has passion spilling out of it, wailed out in alto screams, only to fall back into monistic chantings of “A Love Supreme, A Love Supreme… “ It’s understandable that I didn’t “get it” back in high school, I was an unknowing child that knew nothing of the fervor a person could feel towards an abstract idea like God (let alone Jazz as an expressive vehicle). The hypnotic, complex, repetitive rhythms interested me by giving me something to marvel at (Acknowledgement), and the soaring lead and dancing piano phrases was evidence of true virtuosity (Resolution), yet with the additional knowledge that A Love Supreme was his gift to God, Coltrane’s work takes on a greater importance.

Branford Marsalis: A Love Supreme

One of the thoughts the Borgo article brought up was the accessibility of a work the likes of A Love Supreme. Can a personal tribute to God be reproduced and how would it feel to an audience? Although the Marsalis version is technically good and interesting in its own right, the two songs are not the same. I don’t experience the same emotional reaction to this other version; it seems like a practiced sermon rather than the raw, religious bursting of Coltrane. For my tastes, the Santana and Vega versions were much more interesting due to the new perspective it gave to the piece.