John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme came out in 1964, an “album-long hymn of praise,” writes Rolling Stone, “transcendent music perfect for the high point of the civil rights movement” as well as Coltrane’s growing spiritual awakening after kicking his heroin habit. The record amazed critics and jazz fans alike and by 1970, it had sold over half-a-million copies. But lovers of Coltrane would only have only one chance to see him perform the full four-part suite live, and not in any stateside clubs but in Antibes, France on July 26, 1965, where he played two nights with his quartet.
You can see twelve of those miraculous minutes above, consisting of the first two movements of the suite, “Acknowledgement” and “Resolution.” This is a gorgeous performance, capturing what saxophonist David Liebman describes as “an end and a new musical beginning” for Coltrane. The second evening’s performance, below, begins with “Naima,” on which, Liebman says, “Trane solos combining a striking lyrical approach offset by multi-noted, densely packed runs.” If you’ve ever wondered what Ira Gitler meant in describing Coltrane’s style as “sheets of sound,” these performances will clear up the mystery.
The mid-sixties was a pivotal time for jazz—before the electronic fusion experiments to come, as hard bop and free jazz combined with the dissonance of early 20th century contemporary classical music, which had “permeated jazz for at least a handful of artists.” Coltrane still spoke the “common language”—the “standard repertoire stemming from the American song book and/or original compositions with similar and predictable harmonic movement,” yet in his case, he “added modality to the mix,” a trick picked up from Miles Davis.
Coltrane sadly died from liver cancer in 1967 at age 40 and did not live to see the strange, surprising turns jazz would take in the decade to come. How his brash, yet enchanting playing would have translated in the 70s is anyone’s guess. Yet, like so many artists who die young and in their prime, he left us with a body of work almost mystical in its intensity and beauty—so much so that his more religious followers made him a saint after his death. Watching these too-brief recordings above, it’s not hard to see why.
The second night’s performances from the Antibes Jazz Festival were issued as a live album in 1988. The first night’s live showcase of A Love Supreme has seen several releases, and if you’re one of those who professes devotion to this amazing piece of work, you’d do well to pick up a copy, if you don’t own one already. “The intensity if the Antibes live performance,” writes Liebman in his 2011 liner notes to the Jazz Icons/Mosaic release of the Coltrane Live at Antibes 1965 DVD, “far exceeds the studio recording” of the album. And that’s saying something.