Why is John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme still so resonant nearly 60 years after it was recorded? Much to its credit, it’s short (just over 30 minutes) and to the point. If you’re going to raise a prayer of gratitude to a higher power and layer spiritual meaning onto music, best not belabor the point. In the case of A Love Supreme, that kind of brevity also extended to the recording process. The album was tracked in one dayDecember 9, 1964by Rudy Van Gelder in his studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey; Van Gelder also mixed the album. A composed (rather than purely improvised) four-part suite (“Acknowledgement,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance/Part 4,” and “Psalm”), it exudes a certain hypnotic aura. It draws the listener in with an entrancing spirituality, its fealty to love and a higher power. Finally, the incisive, same-page playing of bassist Jimmy Garrison, drummer Elvin Jones, and pianist McCoy Tyner is almost supernatural.
Discogs lists 307 versions of A Love Supreme. The actual number is likely higher, but either way this album has a long, redundant history. First released in 1965 in mono and stereo on vinyl LP on Impulse! in the US and Japan, it was issued simultaneously on Sparton Impulse! in Canada, His Master’s Voice in the UK, and Hispavox in Spain. Later, it was put out on Probe and Deja Vu in Italy and MCA in the US. The first CDs arrived in 1986 and have been reissued in many countries many times since. Audiophile editions have come from Speaker’s Corner in Germany (180gm LP, 2002) and Analogue Productions (SACD and two 45rpm 180gm LPs, 2010), as well as Austrian label Supersense (Acetate, 2021). FLAC, WAV, and other 24/96 high- resolution audio files became available for purchase in 2014. A live performance of A Love Supreme, recorded at the 1965 Festival Mondial du Jazz in Antibes, France, was released with the original album and a disc of alternate studio takes on an Impulse! CD as A Love Supreme Deluxe Edition in 2002.
In 2015, A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters was released in the US, Europe, and Japan in CD, LP, and AIFF-file formats. Along with the original album, that release was considered the final word (at least until the next “discovery”). It contains a pair of “mono reference masters” (of Pts.3 and 4), alternate takes from a December 10, 1964, sextet session, several vocal overdubs, a false start, a breakdown, and the complete Antibes live show. In 2021, a second revelatory live performance of the album, A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle, was released by Impulse!/Verve in Europe, Japan, and the US in LP and CD formats. That performance added saxophonists Pharoah Sanders (tenor) and Carlos Ward (alto) and extra bassist Donald Garrett. In 2022, Analogue Productions released a 15ips, ¼”, two-track stereo tape version for $500. Cassettes, 8-track tapes, colored vinyl, club editions, and innumerable “unofficial” editions (read: piracy) have also all been available during the album’s inextinguishable afterlife.
As with such musical masterpieces as The Velvet Underground and Nico and Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, entire record collections have been built around the many versions of A Love Supreme. The many editions of one of the greatest jazz albums ever released have, of course, ignited the kind of long-running disputes over sonics that some audiophiles and jazz fans live for. Discussions of which version sounds best have filled forums and comment sections for years. Impassioned arguments can be found supporting various CD and LP incarnations, though mostexcept for a small minority who swear by the Supersense $500+ acetatesusually come down to a pair of Analogue Productions LP releases. (For Chad Kassem, AP’s inimitable owner, competing with yourself is a sweet problem to have.) On one side are those who resolutely claim that the pair of 180gm LPs cut by Ryan Smith at 45rpm in 2010 (sold out but available on eBay and Discogs) are the pinnacle of sonic purity. Very recently, some fans of that 2010 issue have peeled off and thrown their allegiance to AP’s new, 200gm 45rpm UHQR version, which was also cut by Smith.
While packaging is either a bonus or beside the point, the extraordinary amount of online kvetching makes it clear that the boxes that house the UHQR records deserve mention. Depending on the amount of space you have for music, it’s either too bulky or wonderfully bombproof. In my opinion, it’s the kind of well-thought-out protection an expensive record requires. The 12-page booklet is excellent, with liner notes by Ashley Kahn, who wrote A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album (2002). The included Technical Specifications Manual details how these records are made and the makeup of Clarity Vinyl (part of Acoustic Sounds’ acquisition of Classic Records), and answers most questions about the UHQR process.
Does the world need this new LP version of A Love Supreme? The answer to such questions depends on equipment, listening environments, and quirks inherent in each audiophilic brain. I own eight versions, split among LP, CD, and high-resolution digital, including the previous Analogue Productions release. To my ears, the new UHQR has a slight edge over the others. That edge arises from the clarity and definition of all the instruments, how Coltrane’s saxophone pops, and balance that’s the best of all the versions I’ve heard.
Is this UHQR the final word on A Love Supreme, at least on vinyl? If history serves, the answer is an emphatic “No.” A $1000 vinyl version of Coltrane’s masterpiece can’t be far off. But to my ears, this new UHQR entry has nosed into the lead
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