A Coltrane Review "Two-Fer"— Verve's New A Love Supreme and Ballads

One ferocious and one mellow, these two John Coltrane albums dropped last month by Verve in association with Acoustic Sounds serve as both a great intro for the unfamiliar and as possibly the best sounding versions of both and of course affordable too.

On Ballads Coltrane abandons the "sheets of sound" approach and with his classic quartet plays it 100% straight. Most of this album was recorded in single takes with everyone arriving at Van Gelder's studio with store-bought sheet music November 13th, 1962 so I suppose this review should have been published tomorrow on the 58th anniversary but the album was released in 1963 so why wait?

This is an album that will never go out of style and never be unwelcome on any jazz lover's turntable. Gene Lees annotation is just weird because it completely ignores the contributions of McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. When you listen you'll not be able to.

I compared this Ryan K. Smith cut with an original pressing (so happy to have) and with the out of print double 45rpm ORG Music version cut by Bernie Grundman aboutt a decade ago. It would take work to produce a bad version of this beauty. The original has that "new tape" vibrancy and Rudy laid off of the compression and midbass muck. Bernie's 45rpm cut has a pleasing warmth without sacrificing transient articulation and Ryan's cut has his characteristic clarity and transparency all set against QRP's usual jet black backgrounds (some knucklehead on the "What's Best Forum" took me to task for using the word "black" in another review, claiming it was somehow racist—I"m not kidding). Ryan's new cut is a 100% top to bottom success and is easy to recommend.

Rudy's Bad Day—A Love Supreme

Two years later, on December 9th, 1964 the quartet returned to Englewood Cliffs (along with Archie Shepp and Art Davis who performed on one unreleased track) to record Coltrane's PTL album. He feels the spirit in music and sums it up perfectly in three words "ELATION—ELEGANCE—EXALTATION" capitalized in the "A Love Supreme" poem on the inner gatefold. What sounded absolutely ferocious in 1965 sounds more measured and controlled though no less intense. Coltrane thanks in the notes the other musicians who play on this, which is both gracious and called for. You could argue that on side one McCoy Tyner's keyboard work almost steals the show. You needn't be religious or even spiritual to appreciate Coltrane's intense devotion as he draws endless variations around the simple incantation.

Anyone who tells you the original pressing bests this new one simply has not heard either! Rudy must have been distracted when he cut the original because he failed to notice a horrendous hum that begins before the music on side one and continues throughout. The original also suffers from his trademarked lower midbass boost and overall compression that adds unwelcomed thickness to Tyner's piano and to the "A Love Supreme" vocal chant. The original is just not very good at all. Quite the opposite for Ryan Smith's cut. Tyner's piano in particular is spectacularly well-served sitting clearly and convincingly in three-dimensions between the speakers. You could say Coltrane's sax is slightly thinner than you might want but that would be system-dependent and as far as I'm concerned the cut is another out of the park home run set against black backgrounds.

Everything about these two Coltrane releases from the Stoughton press laminated tip-on jackets to the outstanding mastering and pressing exudes the highest quality experience offered by all- analog records. The bad news is that the initial run of these titles (probably greater than how many of the originals were pressed and sold) is just about sold out. The good news is that these titles have no set "out of print" date, but as I've said for years now "get 'em while you can". And at $34.99 each, you'd be crazy not to.

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volvic's picture

I received them two weeks ago which was around the same time I got my new Cyrus phono preamp and matching PS. It was fun adjusting the resistance and capacitance while listening to A Love Supreme. The vinyl is dead quiet and the sound just comes right out of the speakers. I cannot wait for the Clifford Brown discs.

AnalogJ's picture

Michael, I think the 45rpm to which you're referring was an AP and not the ORG (ORG did a marvelous 45rpm reissue of Hartman/Coltrane).

In any event, you don't mention the 45rpm in the above review with regard to the sound comparison. I have the Speakers Corner 33, also out of print, which I think is pretty great, although I haven't listened to it in a while.

jazz's picture

I also have this ORG 45 RPM. And those new ones here.
The Love Supreme was the AP 45 RPM.

AnalogJ's picture

I thought he WAS talking about ALS?

AnalogJ's picture


jazz's picture

just as Michael described. Didn’t compare it to the new R. K. Smith one yet but will do shortly. As this is a record to play through, I needed a good 33 RPM version, too, anyway

jazz's picture


ArcAudio's picture

These editions should be the standard for all other regular releases. People should not have to pay $80+ (ex MMJ) to get a great version of these classics

Trane's picture

I don't think I will be playing my AP45 A Love Supreme anymore.
The new Acoustic Sounds reissues are that good!

audiotom's picture

I have the AP 45 and 33 1/3 and an original first press mono

I bought the new verve Of both

WHere are these besting the AP?

I heard the new Verse are basically the same masters as the AP

culturcide's picture

Congratulations on being woke-scolded for your use of the B word!

Grant M's picture

Has anyone like Chad or RKS involved with this project confirmed which tape this new ALS is cut from? There are two known to exist, the "Bell Sounds" cutting master that was a copy of the original master tape, that one was previously considered the 'master', so AP used it for the 2x45. Another tape that was found is a flat transfer of the original master that was stored at Abbey Road in the UK, that one was used to make the deluxe edition CD, at that time they said it was the better copy. Curious to know!

audiotom's picture

A Cut Supreme.. A Cut supreme.. A cut supreme... A cut supreme

Glotz's picture

are pretty solid too. 180gm and quiet backgrounds. Black! lol...

I bought both then and I am thankful, as I can't keep buying albums I already own! (Though I still do.. sob. lol.)

SamS's picture

I also have ALS from the 1995 GRP/Impulse CD&LP reissue series, and enjoy it, but don't have any other vinyl issues for comparison. I thought you might have reviewed it at the time so dug out my old Tracking Angles. Sure enough in Issue 5/6 you review the series and generally preferred the CD issues as they were apparently mastered directly from analog masters whereas the LPs were cut from Dolby SR copies (weird). Anyway for ALS you wrote, "The CD transfer is outstanding, the closest of the bunch to the original, as is for some reason the LP. If you are going to buy any of this series on vinyl, A Love Supreme is the one to get."

Daron Murphy's picture

I just A/Bd the 45 rpm version mastered by Kevin Gray for Analogue Productions against the Ryan Smith-mastered 33 1/3 release reviewed above and I far preferred the former. The Kevin Gray 45 had a richer, deeper, more 3D soundstage. And the sound was a bit more pleasingly mellow. The new Ryan Smith disc sounds brighter and maybe more energetic but it lacks the 45's complexity.

Grant M's picture

There is now a note on the Acoustic Sounds website listing for A Love Supreme confirming the tape used on this reissue:

"The original master tape is available but it's not in the best shape. This LP was cut from a flat tape copy made by Rudy Van Gelder and used for cutting in the UK in April of 1965. Of course, the original recording was in December '64, so only a handful of months later. This tape was discovered at Abbey Road and had been untouched between 1965 and 2002."

"So while the original tape is available and while we would always opt for the original whenever we can, in this case this copy was the better choice as the tape has incurred less overall wear and sounds much better than the original."