John Coltrane, “Spiritual”

Maybe my favorite piece of jazz, ever. At least in the top three.

Coltrane’s “Spiritual” is a live track off (initially) his Live at the Village Vanguard album. Recorded live in NYC November 3, 1961, it features Coltrane on both soprano and tenor saxes, Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet, Reggie Workman on bass, Elvin Jones on drums and McCoy Tyner on piano.

Though there are other versions extant, most notably one on Live Trane: the European Tours, the Village Vanguard performance is in my mind the best.

The main lick/ riff is a simple C minor melody Coltrane reportedly took from an old spiritual and bookended around a slow waltz. That’s it. For 13:48.

The telling beauty of the song/ riff is that it sounds equally at home/ appropriate played on tenor sax, soprano sax (Coltrane plays both during this version), and on a heavily-distorted, downtuned guitar (though I transposed the riff down a few steps to have the tonic chord be an open position on the guitar).

I don’t know if good jazz also works as good metal or vice versa, or good music’s good music, but it’s the Riff of Riffs to me:  powerful, dirgelike, regal, dignified, beseeching, supplicating, and humble, all at once.

Thank you John.

(Note: this version is short 3 minutes, but it’s the only take from the Village Vanguard I could find.)

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