Swap Reggie Workman on bass for Jimmy Garrison, and youd have the Coltranes last and most important combo, which plays on this newly released recording.
A moment captured from a 1961 performance in West Germany. Swap Reggie Workman on bass for Jimmy Garrison, and you'd have pictured here Coltrane's last and most important combo, which plays on this newly released recording. Michael Ochs Archives / GETTY IMAGES

On Saturday, Oct 2, 1965, the jazz giant John Coltrane completed his final night of a nearly week-long engagement at a Pioneer Square jazz club that no longer exists, the Penthouse, with a performance of his greatest work, A Love Supreme.

The album runs 33 minutes long. The Seattle performance adds over 40 minutes to the original. In addition to Coltrane’s last and important combo —which was the classic quartet comprised of himself, Elvin Jones (drums), McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass) — the performance also includes contributions from Donald Rafael Garrett (bass), Carlos Ward (saxophone), and Pharoah Sanders (saxophone). The music they played that night was made of the best stuff that Coltrane contributed to America's most complex, richest, and deepest form of music.

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Many critics are describing this recording, which was made by the late Seattle saxophonist Joe Brazil, as a kind of document that captures Coltrane's transition from modern jazz to free jazz. It is "disinhibited, inspired, unleashed by the existential pressure of the irrevocable moment", says Richard Brody of the New Yorker. It's "a perpetual work in progress, a launchpad to the next phase of his quest", claims Hank Shteamer of the Rolling Stone. "[N]ot for the faint of heart," says Paul de Barros of the Seattle Times.

But these views of the work amount to nothing more than nonsense. There is none of the late Coltrane noise and out-of-body-seeking to be found here. The center still holds. All that we hear, from beginning to end, is still very much in the realm of the classic quartet. And this is because Tyner and Jones, the real stars of A Love Supreme Live in Seattle, know how to push the knowable to the limits of the unknowable without going too far into the unknowable.

The last and very brief stage of Coltrane's career — the period that saw the technical mastery of Giant Steps, Coltrane's most intellectual statement, made into so much cosmic mush with assistance from Alice Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders, musicians who could not hold a candle to Tyner and Jones — is not on this recording. Go elsewhere for that sort of thing. A Love Supreme Live in Seattle is not only 100% the classic quartet, and, best of all, its version of the second movement, "Resolution," has an accompaniment by Tyner that completely dissolves the old and still rigid distinction between the abstract and the actual. With this performance, we see the mathematical, the conceptual can be as fluid as the thing an ancient philosopher said we can only cross once.