Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Love Supreme and the Permanent Things

Tonight we’ll be covering John Coltrane's seminal album A Love Supreme in class. Like a true masterpiece, it continues to unfold rich new nuances. It was a deeply earnest expression of spiritual faith, and a pivotal record in Coltrane’s discography. It was in effect, a summing up of all his previous experiments, and signal of his impending defection to the Free Jazz movement.

The record would undeniably inspire many avant-garde artists who would affiliate with the Black Power movement, and even in some cases, explicit Marxism. Yet as an artistic statement I would suggest A Love Supreme is in close kindred with the American conservative movement. A Love Supreme is deeply rooted in religious values. It is part and parcel of Coltrane’s musical quest for God. In many ways, it is also an avant-garde album, with Coltrane’s classic Quartet perfecting many innovative techniques on that session. Ultimately it would lead to the Free Jazz of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

The great resolved contradiction of American Conservatism is its embrace of both tradition and innovation. The great resolved tension of American Liberalism is its rejection of both. American Conservatism defends what Russell Kirk calls the Permanent Things—tradition—religion, while embracing commerce and free inquiry. The American Left caters to a Luddite rejection of capitalism and technology, as well as a moral relativism that rejects absolutes.

Coltrane however, spent his career striving for absolutes. Trane had reverence for that which came before, but he was also an innovator. His all too brief life radically altered the landscape of American music. A Love Supreme is certainly a permanent thing.