The high church came to the chapel last night when John Coltrane’s magnum opus, A Love Supreme, was re-envisioned by a large multi-cultural ensemble as a Summer Solstice celebration at London’s King’s College in The Strand. Conceived and presented by Paul Bradshaw’s Chaser Productions with arrangements by Rowland Sutherland and directed by Orphy Robinson, Sacred Music Sacred Spaces found perfect accord in the beautifully ornate Chapel at King’s: an oasis of peace and calm at the heart of this bustling college.
Flautist Rowland Sutherland’s inspired vision, influenced in part by the live recording of A Love Supreme from Antibes and Alice Coltrane’s interpretation with strings, was to open up Coltrane’s monumental album length suite, recorded in 1964 and first released in 1965, and introduce instrumentation, textural colours and traditions from across the wide cultural spectrum that reflects the UK’s inner cities today. Assembled along the chapel’s apse, under a gold-tinged mosaic of Christ in majesty surrounded by angels symbolizing the spirit of God, were a panoply of London’s most imaginative players under the guidance of vibraphonist Orphy Robinson, including tenorist Steve Williamson, bass clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings, flautist Sutherland, pianist Nikki Yeoh, Pat Thomas on electronics, bassist Neil Charles, drummer Richard Spaven, spoken word and vocals by Juwon Ogungbe, Ansuman Biswas on tamboura and melodic Indian instruments, a trio of Bata drummers and kora player Mosi Conde. And from the very moment that Biswas’ circular tamboura drone floated up towards the golden dome above while Conde’s plucked kora began to sketch the main theme before the front line kicked in, the audience rapidly found themselves in the presence of a very special, deeply spiritual performance.
Sutherland’s newly composed parts merged seamlessly with Coltrane’s four part work, introducing contemporary soundscapes and ascending lines that gave the flute, sax and bass clarinet top lines ample space to articulate the themes and develop soaring harmonies from this remarkable sound palette, proving just how missed Williamson and Sutherland have been from the contemporary scene. Ogunde threaded Coltrane’s Love Supreme poem throughout the music, creating complimentary vocal lines while percussive interludes began to ratchet up the tension, combining syncopated African rhythms with bells, shakers and the mystic timbres of Biswas’ glittering box of tricks. The closing ‘Psalm’ section grew the intensity with Pat Thomas’ electronic shards growling against Yeoh’s propulsive piano and Robinson’s bubbling marimba while the horns pushed the climbing melody until it felt it would rise up to the heavens. Coltrane created A Love Supreme as his gift to God, and at these two utterly spellbinding, sold out performances the gift well and truly kept on giving.