There’s no denying the greatness of jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. But there’s also no denying that his later work, when his playing often went free-form and his band followed suit, is not for everyone. Which is what you’ll find on the newly released live album Offering Live At Temple University, an oft-bootlegged live recording that UME and Resonance Records have released on CD and vinyl.
Recorded November 11, 1966 at Temple University in Philadelphia, and available for the first time officially, John Coltrane’s Offering: Live At Temple University was originally broadcast by the college’s radio station, and had ’Trane playing with his wife Alice on piano, saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders, Rashied Ali on drums, and bassist Sonny Johnson. The latter of which is notable because Johnson here replaces Coltrane’s usual bass player, Jimmy Garrison, who had played with the sax man and the rest of the group a few months earlier at the shows that would become the albums Live At The Village Vanguard Again! (May 28, 1966) and Live In Japan (July 11th and 22nd, 1966), and would be back for the February 15th, 11967 sessions that would comprise the studio album Stellar Regions.
Not surprisingly, the music on John Coltrane’s Offering: Live At Temple University recalls all of those albums, in that it has the sax man and his band often starting and ending a song much the way they would’ve years earlier, when their playing was far more conventional, only to go off into noisy discord and wild rhythms in the middle.
Which isn’t to say that John Coltrane’s Offering: Live At Temple University is redundant if you own those other albums, even if it does have the two songs he plays on Vanguard and three of six songs from Japan. And not just because they don’t play those songs here like they did at those other shows. In fact, the versions on Temple actually find them being a bit less loose than they were on Japan and Vanguard. While those shows had ’Trane and friends playing “My Favorite Things” and “Crescent” for nearly an hour each, they’re only about twenty-five minutes long each on Offering: Live At Temple University.
Not that it really matters, especially when you get to “My Favorite Things,” easily the highlight of John Coltrane’s Offering: Live At Temple University. Which we have Ali to thank for. Rather than play typical jazz drums on the track, he plays part of the song in a way that sounds like he’s pounding the drums rapidly with his hands. Obviously, having not been there, I don’t know if that’s what he’s doing, but it certainly sounds like it, and it really brings something new and interesting to this version of the song.
The thing is, while this show was originally broadcast on the radio, Offering: Live At Temple University doesn’t sound like it was recorded by some forward-thinking fan with a cassette player. Instead, it was remastered — and nicely so — from the radio station’s originally master reels, and thus sounds great. Probably even better than the day it aired (though that says more about modern day stereo equipment and mid-’60s radios than anything else).
That said, John Coltrane’s Offering: Live At Temple University does have issue you wouldn’t have heard if you listened to this show when it was broadcast. At least I don’t think so. The version of “Leo” here, which kicks off the second disc, is abruptly cut off at the 21:29 mark. Which is really unfortunate, because it was, up to that point, quite a ripping version of that song.
Even with this gaffe, though, John Coltrane’s Offering: Live At Temple University is still a great live show that finds the sax man and (most of) his best band tearing their way through some of his best songs.