Academic journal article ARSC Journal

Beyond A Love Supreme: John Coltrane and the Legacy of an Album

Academic journal article ARSC Journal

Beyond A Love Supreme: John Coltrane and the Legacy of an Album

Article excerpt

Beyond A Love Supreme: John Coltrane and the Legacy of an Album. By Tony Whyton. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 2013. 160pp (paperback). Bibliography, Index. ISBN 978-0-19-973323-1

Studies in recorded music offer in-depth analysis of music within the wider context of the studio recording. They also provide a deeper contextual understanding of the music by placing the recording in its social and historical context. Jazz proves to be fertile ground for such studies due to the wealth of material available and the special emphasis placed upon recordings from within the jazz community. Tony Whyton's Beyond A Love Supreme goes a step further with a cultural musicological study of John Coltrane's seminal 1964 album, A Love Supreme. Whyton's primary thesis is the influence of sound recording on culture. Using Coltrane's magnum opus, Whyton initiates a cross-disciplinary approach that explores the album's influence on the perception of Coltrane's music and image, on jazz and its dialectics and on other mediums including literature, poetry and popular culture. Whyton's book successfully positions A Love Supreme as a powerful cultural influence and is a welcome addition to jazz and cultural studies literature.

The Professor of Jazz and Musical Cultures at the University of Salford, Whyton organizes his book into four free-standing chapters that can be read continuously or as individual case studies. In chapter one he discusses A Love Supreme in terms of the antonymic narrative that runs throughout jazz history including the balance between the composed and the improvised to the live and the mediated. Through analysis of interviews with Alice Coltrane and Branford Marsalis and video footage of a live performance of Coltrane and his classic quartet performing the work, he demonstrates how A Love Supreme challenges such binaries. Chapter two focuses on the reification of A Love Supreme and subsequent deification of John Coltrane. Whyton posits the album as Coltrane's last major work and its overshadowing of his later works. Viewing the recording as a commodity, he then examines the role of the record company Impulse records, in Coltrane's career and in the unique packaging of A Love Supreme. Finally, he dissects the deification of Coltrane by analyzing Coltrane's position as devoted musician, as unmediated artist and as a sacred figure with links to the divine.

Chapter three returns to Coltrane's post-4 Love Supreme works and examines them in more detail. Whyton frames the discussion around three recordings (Ascension, Interstellar Space, and The Olatunji Concert), hypothesizes the possible motivations behind the critical reception of these late works and outlines the social and political context from which they derived. Chapter four presents the influence of A Love Supreme through two narrative themes: authenticity and universality. Authenticity is explored through various tribute recordings, the "Coltrane poem," and A Love Supreme's appearance in literary contexts. The universality narrative is evident in A Love Supreme's influence on musical genres outside of jazz (minimalism, classical and popular music) and on other forms of expression including graphic novels, advertisements and dance. He concludes by explaining how recordings can alter interpretations and understandings of history through the analysis of newer recordings of A Love Supreme, including Wynton Marsalis' version from 2004 and alternate takes of A Love Supreme released in 2002. Finally, Whyton demonstrates how values and beliefs bound up with the album can be applied retrospectively in history with the renaming of Pauline Hopkins' 1900 novel Contending Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South to A Love Supreme. …

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