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Resolution: A Critical Analysis of Covers

Ben Gray
Contributing Writer

John Coltrane's A Love Supreme... whew, that's a big one. From the album's liner notes: "Dear Listener...During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music. I feel this has been granted through His grace...This album is a humble offering to Him." So, this is a powerful, classic album, but it was more than that for Coltrane.

A Love Supreme was recorded in 1964, with Coltrane on sax, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums. It's a four-part suite - "Acknowledgement," "Resolution," "Pursuance," and "Psalm." I'll focus on the second part of this, "Resolution," for this column. The album version of "Resolution" starts with a bass solo from Garrison, starting with double-stops to get a nice big sound. At about 0:20, Coltrane joins to play the "Resolution" melody (after a very faint ghost of a sax line in the left channel that comes in about a second before Coltrane actually joins - just a curiosity, I guess), along with Jones and Tyner. At this point, Garrison moves to a more conventional bassline behind Coltrane's sax. Garrison's bass emphasizes the downbeat through the opening here, but moves to more of a walking bassline around 0:55 or 0:60 as Coltrane takes a short solo. At about 1:15, Coltrane returns to the main theme and Garrison's bass returns to the line he was playing around 0:20 when the full quartet joined the tune. At about 1:50, Coltrane drops out and Tyner takes a piano solo over Garrison's walking bass and Jones' drums. Just a killer solo, full of big right hand runs, but also with an arc and a logic to it. At about 3:35, it sounds like Tyner's going to return to the "Resolution" melody, but he pushes on until around 3:55 with some great chord-playing, and at that point Coltrane returns on the sax. Tyner's chords continue as Coltrane's sax reaches for the high notes here. A cool little stop-start line around 5:00 from Coltrane, then he pushes on, hitting on something around 5:30 that sounds like he's in agony (perhaps I'm reading into the liner notes, but this sounds like Coltrane trying to resolve to follow the path he's striving for here - again, maybe that's just me). He briefly touches on, or at least near, the "Resolution" theme just before 6:00, but doesn't bring it back outright until around 6:25. Around 7:00, the tune has come to a close, and it finally finishes up with some sustained chords from Tyner and a drumroll from Jones. Powerful playing from the whole quartet, with great solos from Coltrane and Tyner and an excellent bass solo introduction from Garrison. I didn't mention Jones' drumming here, but he's rock-solid, locked in with Garrison's bass and Tyner's piano chords throughout to drive the rhythm section. Amazing stuff. I'll also mention here that Coltrane's quartet did perform A Love Supreme in full at Antibes in 1965 - the live version of "Resolution" is here.

A Love Supreme has been covered in its entirety by a number of different artists. To start, I'll look at Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey's live "Resolution" from their December 31, 2001 show at Curly's in Tulsa, Oklahoma. JFJO at the time was a trio consisting of Brian Haas on keys, Reed Mathis on bass, and Jason Smart on the drums. This version also starts with a bass solo introduction to "Resolution" - in this case, Mathis' electric bass through some effects pedals. At about 0:35, Mathis introduces the tune proper, and then Haas comes in on a distorted Rhodes to play the "Resolution" theme over Mathis' walking bassline and Smart's driving, rock-influenced drums. Haas then takes off, playing a fine Rhodes solo that's fairly subdued compared to some of the aggressive, distorted stuff that he was playing at the time. At about 2:15, Haas returns to the "Resolution" theme… this dissolves around 2:40 and there's a nice transition as Haas moves to take care of the low-end and Mathis plays his bass through an octave pedal here. Smart's drumming propels them along here, so that transition works without a hitch. Mathis takes a nice solo, getting into a groove as Haas takes care of the low-end and also adds some Rhodes chords to comp behind Mathis' solo. At about 4:50, Mathis' bass is reaching for a pretty ecstatic peak...he continues with this solo until around 5:45, when Mathis returns to the "Resolution" theme. This version dissolves into a drum solo from Jason Smart that is faded out here. I'll also mention that Haas and Mathis played another full version of A Love Supreme with Jessica Lurie on sax and flute and Mike Clark (yeah, from the Headhunters) on drums on July 20, 2002 ("Resolution" starts around 8:00 or so in that version).

Branford Marsalis' 2002 album Footsteps of our Fathers includes his band's version of A Love Supreme (along with Sonny Rollins' Freedom Suite). Marsalis is on the sax, along with Joey Calderazzo on piano, Eric Revis on bass, and Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums. This version of "Resolution" starts with a solo bass introduction from Revis clearly inspired by Garrison's solo on the Coltrane original. At about 0:20, a drumroll brings in the rest of the band as Marsalis' sax plays the melody with a Coltrane-ish tone; Watts' drums have a bit of a funkier feel than on Coltrane's original. At about 0:50, Marsalis takes a brief, bluesy sax solo before moving back to the "Resolution" theme at around 1:15. Watts' drums are really powerful behind the melody here, really pounding on the toms, crashing his cymbals… around 1:45, Calderazzo starts a piano solo and Marsalis drops out. Watts' drums calm down a bit, but continue to really push the music forward here. Calderazzo takes a fine piano solo as Revis plays a walking bassline behind him. The intensity has picked up by around 3:50 as Calderazzo takes some fast right hand runs and Watts' cymbals start to crash some more at this point… At around 5:05, Calderazzo comes back to the "Resolution" theme, and then hands off the reins to Marsalis around 5:15 for a sax solo. Revis is really holding down the time here with his walking bass - some very Coltrane-sounding runs from Marsalis around 6:00-6:15 or so and throughout this solo as Watts' drums continue to impress… Marsalis is really killing it in here, some wild stuff toward the end of this sax solo. At around 8:15 or 8:20, he starts to touch back on the "Resolution" theme in a high register, then continues on with his soloing until around 8:45, when he comes back to the theme proper. Phew, great playing from the whole quartet here. Marsalis' solo and Watts' drum support throughout this version are great. Marsalis plays some Coltrane-inspired stuff on the sax, but makes it his own thing, too. Very recommended.

Branford's brother Wynton has also done A Love Supreme in a few different settings. I'll say up front that the version to check for is a quartet with Wynton Marsalis on trumpet, Elvin Jones on drums, Reginald Veal on bass, and Carlos McKinney on piano. A video clip of their version of "Pursuance" from A Love Supreme is up on Wynton Marsalis' website, but "Resolution" from that band doesn't seem to be available to stream from any of the places that I know to look. The version of "Resolution" that I'll look at here is from Wynton Marsalis with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, from their 2005 version of the full suite. Marsalis is joined on trumpet by a large cast (hence "Jazz Orchestra") - info on who's playing is available here. This version starts out with a bass introduction, then moves into the "Resolution" theme orchestrated for horns. Eric Lewis' piano gets in a really great line after the first statement of the theme, then the band moves back into an orchestrated section. A sax solo follows the theme, with Eric Lewis on piano, Carlos Henriquez on bass, and Herlin Riley on drums accompanying. It's a fine solo that lasts until shortly after 4:00 when the horns add a few statements, then Eric Lewis takes a piano solo. Okay, now we're talking… Lewis takes a really great solo here, ending with some excellent chordal stuff around 6:00 as he brings the solo to a close. After the piano solo, there's a section for the horns that is tight and well-played, of course, but doesn't really have the passion that this tune really needs (to my ears, anyway - your mileage might vary). I don't mean to dismiss this - it is really very cool how the "Resolution" theme is split among the horns here. Good stuff all around - great arranging for the horns, and a really great piano solo from Eric Lewis in the middle section here.

Icelandic organ trio ASA Trio did a live version of A Love Supreme at Cafe Cultura in in Reykjavik, Iceland in October 2009. ASA Trio is Agnar Már Magnússon on organ, Andrés Thor on guitar, and Scott McLemore on drums. Their version of "Resolution" doesn't start with a bass solo, but rather a single bass note swell before the guitar plays the "Resolution" melody. At about 0:30, there's a brief guitar solo spot, then back to the "Resolution" theme at around 0:50. It's really nice how the drums and organ get in some space between phrases in the theme here. At about 1:15 or so, the trio moves into a space for bass and drums; it's not clear where this will go at first, then an organ trio starts over the walking organ bassline with some comping from the guitar here. Just before 3:00, the organ moves toward the "Resolution" theme, and then continues on before coming back to the theme at around 3:30. At about 3:45, they move into a guitar solo as the organ continues to comp and supply the bassline here. Around 4:45, there's some really nice stuff from the guitar and the trio has really come together for this part of the solo… around 5:30, the guitar comes back to the theme. After playing through the theme, the guitar plays a few low notes and then this moves into a drum solo around 6:00 or so. It's a really solid drum solo here, playing the "Resolution" melody in a rhythmic way if that makes sense - the theme really continues throughout the drum solo here. This solo continues into the trio's take on "Pursuance." A fine take on "Resolution" here, translating Coltrane's sax quartet to the organ trio successfully.

Jose James' version of "Resolution" is from his Coltrane's Sound EP. Although the EP is unreleased, the tunes are out there (check out James' version of Coltrane's "Equinox," too), with "Resolution" available at Jose James' Soundcloud site. James' vocals are backed here by Nori Ochiai on piano, Alexi David on bass, and Luke Damrosch on drums. This version has a really lush, relaxed feel to it, starting with a brief instrumental introduction before James' vocal comes in around 0:20 - James has such a beautiful, beautiful tone as he adds his lyrics to Coltrane's melody. At about 1:20, Ochiai takes a piano solo, keeping the relaxed vibe going here - excellent work all around from the drums, bass, and piano. Damrosch's drums provide some really excellent accents during this solo. At about 3:15, James' vocals return in a lower register at first, again singing the "Resolution" melody with his lyrics. After singing through the theme, they bring this version to a close with a cymbal flourish. A different take on "Resolution," both because of the presence of the vocalist and because of this group's relaxed take on the tune. Beautiful playing from the whole quartet.

Another vocal version of "Resolution" is on Kurt Elling's 2003 album Man in the Air. Elling's vocals are backed here by Laurence Hobgood on piano, Rob Amster on bass, and Frank Parker, Jr. on drums. This version starts with Amster's bass over Parker's drums to introduce the tune. Elling and Hobgood then join after the brief introduction, Elling singing his lyrics using Coltrane's melody. After singing through the theme, Amster's walking bass and Hobgood's piano chords are a great backing for Elling. At about 1:50, Hobgood takes a piano solo - great, great piano trio playing here - Hobgood, Amster, and Parker could have kept this going for hours and seemingly not run out of ideas. As it is, Elling returns at around 3:15 and Hobgood and Amster drop out, leaving just Elling's voice and Parker's drum accompaniment. At about 4:50, Hobgood and Amster return as Elling's vocal continues. Hobgood's connection with Elling is incredible, filling in all of the spaces between Elling's vocal phrases and backing him perfectly. Just before 6:00, Elling returns to the "Resolution" melody and the band plays through this to the end. Musically, this is a really excellent version of "Resolution" - all four members of the band fill their role perfectly. I can't say that Elling's lyrics did too much for me (though his voice is incredible), but give it a listen - some really beautiful playing in here.

The last version of "Resolution" that I'll look at here is from Kevin Eubanks, off of his 2012 album The Messenger. Eubanks on guitar is joined for this tune by Bill Pierce on sax, Marvin Smith on drums, Rene Camacho on bass, and Alvin Chea providing a vocal bassline and some beatboxing. This version starts with Camacho and Chea's bass before Eubanks' guitar joins. The drums come in around 0:25 as the trio jams around here in the introduction. At about 0:55 after some really fine jamming, Pierce's sax comes in and he and Eubanks play the "Resolution" theme in unison. There's an original, composed part tagged onto the end of the "Resolution" theme before the move into a sax solo from Pierce over Chea's vocal bassline, straightforward drums, and Eubanks' guitar comping. It's a strong solo that lasts until about 2:40, when they come back to the section that was tagged onto the end of the "Resolution" theme, then move into a really great Eubanks guitar solo. Camacho takes the bass duties here as Chea provides some light beatboxing. Eubanks' guitar is on fire here, playing some blues and getting a really great sound, attacking his phrases. At about 4:10, Eubanks starts to return to the "Resolution" theme; after playing through it on the guitar, Pierce's sax joins him to play through the theme in unison again, and then the group adds a vamp at the end here. Less of a spiritual journey and more of a groove workout, but great playing all around, with Eubanks in particular shining brightly on his guitar. I'll also mention here that a live version of Eubanks' "Resolution" was recorded by NPR during his performance at the 2011 Detroit Jazz Festival, where Eubanks was also joined by Pierce, Camacho, and Smith.

Resolution from Kevin Eubanks on Myspace.

These aren't the only versions of "Resolution" or of A Love Supreme, of course. I'll also mention a few others here - Alice Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" from World Galaxy, Santana's version on their self-titled album, the Turtle Island String Quartet's version, a version led by Freddie Hubbard with McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman, Sonny Fortune, and Elvin Jones, a version from The Robert Glasper Experiment, and the Ballistic Brothers on Rude System are all worth checking for and will keep your ears busy for some time. "Resolution" and A Love Supreme as a whole have served as an inspiration to artists for fifty years since the album's release in 1964. The versions here are a taste of some of the many directions that this tune has gone during those fifty years. Beautiful playing, whether from Coltrane's quartet in 1964 or from some of the more recent versions of this tune. Where will this go next? Keep listening.

Ben Gray is a listener with a lot of ideas about this music around in his head.