(Note to readers of this blog: the following review does not, as yet, appear on my bookshop's site, so this marks its first publication. As such, I get to post it in its original form, complete with the veiled reference to a certain deeply irritating swing revival artist at the end.)
Music Choice: A Love Supreme by John Coltrane
This record is probably the most perfect distillation of everything that makes Coltrane great as a musician, the point of balance around which his development as an artist revolves. Before this, there were more conventional recordings like Blue Train, still great but in a recognisable jazz idiom; afterwards there was the more experimental work of his late period, perhaps more difficult for the casual listener to grasp. Throughout the middle period, then through his years at Impulse and the formation of the Classic Quartet with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones, Coltrane groped his way towards the recording of this album, on which his ecstatic personal spirituality and his technical mastery combine with stunning effect to deliver a record which satisfies the heart, the head and the feet.
Comparing music and poetry carries the risk of sounding pretentious, but when I hear this record I'm always reminded of Whitman and Hopkins, poets who combine an almost prophetic enthusiasm (literally - the word 'enthusiasm' derives from the Greek en theos, 'full of God') with such mastery of their craft that they can do things which shouldn't logically work, which should in fact break the form completely, but which, in their sure hands, hang together in such a way that they feel more 'right', more deserving of a place in the world, than a thousand more orthodox works. Some of 'Trane's ideas about 'praying with music' may carry a slight whiff of patchouli oil these days, but at least they remind us that there was a time when jazz musicians had ideas about something other than getting on the Radio 2 playlist, and that's a very good thing.