I have to admit it took me awhile to be able to listen to and enjoy John Coltrane’s music of the mid-‘60s (and some I still can’t appreciate), but in “A Love Supreme” (released in 1965), Coltrane eases us into his later more frenetic compositions with a sparse background line stripped of ornamentation. Sure, at first much of it sounds like noise, but it’s no more discordant to the ear than what the audiences of the time thought of Béla Bartók’s dissonance. There’s no denying the musical experience and technical proficiency of Coltrane and his band here — Elvin Jones on drums, McCoy Tyner on piano, and Jimmy Garrison on bass — and like the best improvisational players, Coltrane gives us plenty to think about as he weaves his occasionally atonal and clashing melodies into a new fabric that transcends the usual musical categories. He was an intense genius a hundred years ahead of his time who burned out in 1967 at age 40 — that means the world has another 50-some years to catch up.
Contrast that with Coltrane’s upbeat, beboppy “Freight Trane” (with Kenny Burrell on guitar), released in 1961: