Back in April I got my tickets for a key performance in James Lavelle’s Meltdown season on the. South Bank. Lavelle contributed to Straight No Chaser Magazine, an adventurous magazine published in the early 1990’s, which I used to get every so often- especially as it featured some exceptionally good musical tips and was closely linked to the, then current, jazz revival. He invited Editor, Paul Bradshaw to curate a performance and the result is Enlightenment, a ‘Re-envisioning of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme.
Coltrane wrote A Love Supreme in August 1964 at a time of turmoil and great change in the USA. Living in a tranquil new suburban home in Long Island and following the birth of his first son through his relationship with his second wife, Alice, he took himself off into his studio and worked solidly for several days. His wife, famously, described his return as follows:-
“It was like Moses coming down from the mountain, it was so beautiful. He walked down and there was that joy, there was peace in his face, tranquility. So I said, ‘Tell me everything, we didn’t really see you for four or five days.’ He said, ‘This is the first time that I have received all the music for what I wanted to record, in a suite. This is the first time I have everything, everything ready.”
50 years later, for this London performance Rowland Sutherland has added to the original score and extended beyond the original quartet setting with and arrangement for a fifteen piece band which brought together British, Indian and African musicians.
So how did it all work out?
The first half of the concert comprised of three pieces. Byron Wallen came on stage with a Tibetan horn, which turned out to be a telescopic instrument which extended about three metres. I’d never seen or heard one before. He swung this around and made great use of several of the onstage microphones before reverting to trumpet, which he payed in dialogue with Neil Charles on double bass.
This was followed by a trio featuring harp, flute and Japanese flutes and a tribute to Sun Ra which, to my ears, captured the mixed strengths and weaknesses of a very strange individual, who would have been 100 years old this month, had he lived that long. I saw him once and enjoyed but I’m really not keen on his Space Is The Place Blue Thumb/Impulse set.
Whether presenting some key influences or showing the appreciation of diversity that helped to make Straight No Chaser such a good read, the scene was set.
Paul Bradshaw’s introduction to the re-envisioning of A Love Supreme offered a few clues about what followed. He spoke of the original piece and the treatments and embellishments that Alice Coltrane had made following John Coltrane’s untimely death in 1966. Perhaps most tellingly he referred to Coltrane’s sole live performance of the suite, at The Antibes Jazz Festival (a recording I’m not familiar with).
The introduction, on Indian harp was in the style of the Alice Coltrane version from 1971, which I first encountered on the Stolen Moments Red Hot + Cool 1994 release. Although it took me a while to appreciate it, I eventually came to quite like it, with its spiritual invocations from the guru, Satchidananda.
John Coltrane had a close working relationship with Eric Dolphy, who died in June 1964. Had he lived, there is a strong probability that he would have played on A Love Supreme and that’s perhaps why this version included ample bass clarinet contributions from Shabaka Hutchings. It was great to see Steve Williamson again but although he played some blistering tenor saxophone, he seemed remarkably underused, especially given that the original composition was conceived by a saxophonist.
The vocals and spiritual invocations were in keeping with Coltrane’s concept,and Coltrane’s whole meditation, printed on the original album sleeve was spoken in full by vocalist Cleeveland Watkiss. I can’t reasonably complain about them but I really missed the iconic double bass introduction and the whole feel of Acknowledgement from the original album. I’ll look forward to hearing the recording on Jazz On Three- it was optimistically stated that it would be presented the following night- but after I’d reported that on Twitter I was told by R3 that it will be broadcast in the New Year. I’ll be in the market for a CD too, if one gets released.
The arrangement was enthralling without being totally satisfying and rates as a 7/10 performance for my money.