I’m naturally suspicious of all these newly discovered recordings that seem to be popping up with increased frequency since the, so called, vinyl revolution. Call it the “contrarian tendency” of my personality. All these multi-disc Super Deluxe Edition‘s with endless demos, repetitive outtakes and, even worse, outfakes; old recordings enhanced and finished with modern performances. Many of these vault discoveries are pure consumerism or worse, exploitation. Selling the latest shinny toy to the weekend record collector and calling it a musical discovery. And yet, I must admit, there have been some discoveries.
The initial appeal of the original A Love Supreme album was almost immediate. The rich, spiritual depth of the playing feeling more like a prayer then Jazz music.The sound a perfect distillation of a musical and spiritual embrassement and continuation. Yet for all of it’s greatness, the studio album is the first step in a much longer journey. By the time Coltrane released Ascension in 1966, he had completely abandoned the conventional style and structure of western music. Only during the brief period of touring between A Love Supreme and the release of Ascension do we have a opportunity to hear Coltrane at the crossroads in the development of a new musical dialogue.
Live in Seattle now stands as the looser and freer extention of Supreme. Recorded on October 2, 1965 at The Penthouse in Seattle, A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle is an explosive discovery. Moving well beyond the sound of the original album, Live has all the passion of a religious rebirth. Contrane challenging every orthodoxy at this point; religion, music…every value transformational. The creative energy of this live club show is palatable. The artist moving beyond the limitations of all that has come before in his career. And very soon Coltrane would abandon those elements completely. The musician staging his own rebellion of sound that grows increasingly raw, restless and, mostly, free.
The performance is peppered with screaming blasts of sound, color and, yes, aggression. Yet, Contrane‘s playing here is amazingly judicious, even generous. Always allowing the other players in his band the room they need to develop within his composition. Coltrane standing always as the leader with a noble spirit. Perhaps the result of his own realization that everything was within his reach creatively. More importantly, he was developing a new language for his sound. For example, the music here is undeniably beautiful at various points in the performance. That’s not to say you will be hearing Angelic Harps that call out to Saint Peter. Absolutely not. The beauty of the music never attempts to conform to our tradition of a soft or feminine ideal. Quite the contrary, the joy of this discovery is bold and aggressive. If you are not familiar with the later half of Coltrane’s disography, prepare yourself. His playing can often be jarring with a shrieking fervor that blasts his horn across the (already) complex soundstage. Forsaking the traditional harmonic elements of the music and developing his own vocabulary for beauty, love and passion.
To steal a phrase from Jimi Hendrix, Coltrane seems to be asking his audience, “Are You Experienced”? Challenging the listener to take this next step. Gone is the smoky, toe-tapping sounds of the cool 50’s jazz scene. Live in Seattle is the breaking point or vanishing point. The complexity and atonality expressing an emotional range from the deepest level of the human experience. The pretense of music striped away and the fuel of creative and spiritual ectasy pushing the music forward. Coltrane refusing to cater to any request for the familiar and comfortable. One final point about the sound quality of this recording. There is a (almost) bootleg quality to the sound. A ”you-are-there” vide that may feel odd to those not accustom to a live recordings. The murkiness of the mix actually creates an very intimate atmosphere that allows the personality of the individual players to come forth during their solos. Repeated listens of Live in Seattle will peel away the distance that normally seperate the listener during an archive recording. An instant classic.