Tom Schnabel and Ashley Kahn on John Coltrane's 'A Love Supreme'

John Coltrane’s 1965 album A Love Supreme is not only a musical masterpiece, but also a sublime expression of the human spirit. It is Coltrane’s spiritual essence. Now, 50 years after it was released, some master recordings – long lost and forgotten – have been unearthed and released in a 3-cd set, A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters. The set is co-produced by writer and critic Ashley Kahn, who wrote the book on the iconic album, A Love Supreme / The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album. The new set is also available on vinyl, a nice offering.

It’s been years since Ashley and I met to talk about his book The House that Trane Built: The Story of Impulse RecordsSo it was a pleasure to sit down and speak with him again about the new 3-cd set. I remember Alice Coltrane talking about this work when I interviewed her years ago, telling me that Coltrane spent a week up in his room, meditating and composing, not even coming out to eat; food had to be brought up to him. When he finally walked down the stairs of their quiet country home in Dix Hills, New York, it was “like Moses coming down the mountain”.  Something important was about to happen.

As it turns out, long lost master tapes were found in family relatives’ homes, one recorded a day after the original album, featuring bassist Art Davis and tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp. After that, a tape surfaced of the only live concert of A Love Supreme, done at the Antibes Jazz Festival in the summer of 1965.  These works make up cd #2 and #3 of the new set.

A Love Supreme has been a constant in my musical life ever since I first heard it, driving a relative’s Porsche 356 down the 10 Freeway on my way to grad night in January 1965. I was electrified. Still am.

Here is the playlist of my session with Ashley Kahn:

1.  “Acknowledgement” from original recording of A Love Supreme, Impulse A-77.

2.  “Acknowledgement” from sextet session recorded a day later, featuring Archie Shepp on tenor sax and Art Davis added on bass.

3.  “Pursuance“, part 3 of A Love Supreme, recorded at the Antibes Jazz Festival in 1965; we excerpted Coltrane’s powerful solo that both entranced and distanced the audience that summer night. The entire movement on this live recording was over 20 minutes long, hence the excerpt.

4.  “Psalm” from original studio recording. This piece serves as both musical coda and prayer.

It was a pleasure to have Ashley Kahn back.  He is a true authority on an artist I care deeply about. As much as I think I know about John Coltrane, I always learn new things from Ashley about him, which enriches my experience and knowledge of the master’s music.

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Tom Schnabel