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A Love Supreme Live In Seattle: John Coltrane’s Spiritual Jazz Classic Lifts Off

Mark Smotroff goes on a whirlwind musical experience…

Fasten your seatbelts Coltrane fans, as the air in this club is going to get hot, sweaty and turbulent in the best possible way soon. A newly unearthed, previously unreleased — and once not thought to even exist — recording of a complete live version of Coltrane’s classic composition A Love Supreme has just been released. 

A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle is a stunner on so many levels. 

For whatever reasons, Coltrane rarely played this seminal work live in concert. Prior to this release the only known recorded performance was from a radio broadcast in France. Often bootlegged, that somewhat flat sounding recording was eventually officially released on a super deluxe edition of A Love Supreme alongside bonus outtakes and alternates from the sessions. For easy comparison, you can hear that version streaming on Qobuz (click here) and on Tidal (click here) streaming in CD quality.  

After initially listening to a better-than-CD quality — 44.1 kHz, 24-bit — advance download of the new A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle, when the vinyl pressing finally arrived the performance became even more of a wonder to experience… more on that in a moment.

The vibe on A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle is at times spine tingling as you can feel the space of The Penthouse club where it was recorded. The earlier radio broadcast from France is great performance wise but it is a close mic’d recording that wasn’t mixed especially well so you don’t quite get the same feel of the band — the focus there is very much on Coltrane. 

Some of you may be wondering how this new recording came into existence. The press materials tell much of that story: “The tape reels containing this performance from October 1965 sat in the private collection of Seattle saxophonist and educator Joe Brazil, heard by a few fortunate musicians and friends—and largely unknown until now.”  There is much more detail in the liner notes for the album when you get your physical copy.

Even though A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle is a simple recording — created using The Penthouse’s two-microphone on stage set up connected to an Ampex reel-to-reel, according to the album’s liner notes — the band’s presence is huge in this new version. 

The producers of this album feel that the mics were probably set up some six feet apart, one close to the piano and the other nearer to the instruments front of stage. The drums of course bleed through into both mics which ultimately results in a satisfying listening blend and an often remarkable sense of Stereo separation (listen to Elvin Jones’ solo on “Interlude 2” to hear what I am talking about).  

As they point out in the the liner notes, whomever made this recording knew what they were doing with this equipment! The tapes were stored carefully and are thus remarkably clear and distortion free. 

The expanded lineup for this performance builds on top of the classic quartet: John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders on saxophones, McCoy Tyner on piano, Elvin Jones on drums, Jimmy Garrison and Donald (Rafael) Garrett on basses. Also, Carlos Ward, a saxophonist just getting started on the scene, sat in as well.

The performance starts quietly but soon builds steam and power like a locomotive train. The group is “on” from the start and by the time the band gets to the third section — “Pursuance”— they are firing with all cylinders on, pushing pulsing hot, well oiled and at times furious.  McCoy Tyner’s playing is particularly fiery and in utter sync with drummer Elvin Jones’ fluid propulsion.  A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle is very different experience than the France recording as this new one seems to give the key players more room to solo and explore. 

All in all the sound quality on A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle is excellent, especially for a recording that was not even supposed to exist! 

For the vinyl edition, the first thing I noticed was that it feels like a mid-60s Impulse Records pressing. I’m not talking just about the look — the cover and label designs are utterly period accurate — but the overall sound of the album and how the music interacts with my stereo equipment when playing it.  The disc mastering on the vinyl version is quite rich and warm. So even though there was inevitably likely some sort of digital transfer in preserving and restoring these rare performances, the overall feeling of the album about as analog as the magnetic tape it was recorded on.  

This is very apparent to me as I turn up the volume — and this performance sounds especially awesome when played loud! — and everything holds together. I’m not feeling that hard digital edge which can become apparent if there isn’t someone with a sympathetic and knowledgeable ear at the driver’s seat. Kudos must go out to restoration and mastering engineer Kevin Reeves at East Iris Studios, Nashville, TN for his work on this release!

My copy of the LP version of A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle was pressed in Germany on what feels like 180-gram vinyl that is dark, quiet and well centered. 

A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle on Qobuz Hi Res, 192 kHz, 24-bit fidelity

Let’s get back to the music….

By the time the band gets to “Resolution” and Elvin Jones is in full flower, the sound of his drum kit battling with McCoy Tyner’s piano is palpable and powerful. For a moment even, there are some audible vocal wailing sounds that I think may be coming from Jones himself at one point, which I didn’t notice initially while listening to the download version. Details like this jumped out at me more when listening to the vinyl version.

You can find A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle streaming in 192 kHz, 24-Bit MQA format on Tidal (click here) and in Hi Res on Qobuz (click here).  Both versions generally sound good, great even, but they are also quite a bit brighter in the presentation of the music. For my tastes, that brightness (curiously, this time around, more evident on Tidal for some reason) feels somehow less enveloping than the vinyl version. For me, what this means is that when the band gets louder the music feels a bit less focused than on the vinyl version.  Some of that tighter presence I’ve enjoyed hearing — which may in part be due to my Bellari tube pre-amp — is somewhat less apparent streaming over my computer and through a Mytek Brooklyn DAC. Don’t get me wrong, as it still sounds really very very good but I have to acknowledge that it is a different listening experience than the vinyl. 

A Love Supreme : Live In Seattle on Tidal MQA, 192 kHz, 24-bit fidelity

Any way you listen, if you are a deep fan of Coltrane, you will need A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle as it is an important and essential listening experience. If you are just getting into Coltrane, you still might want to listen to this powerful live version of this seminal work sooner rather than later as it is a kicker of a show that will offer many insights into Coltrane’s vision. 

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