Review: John Coltrane’s Offering: Live at Temple University

John Coltrane
Offering:Live at Temple University
Impulse!/Resonance Records

The John Coltrane reissue Offering, just released on Resonance Records, is a challenging and explosive piece of work. Recorded at Temple University almost 50 years ago, the 91 minute, five song-recording had been bouncing around on bootleg cassettes for years. But just recently, it was found on tape at Temple radio station WRTI, and remastered.

It was reported that 700 people attended the concert on Nov. 11, 1966, about 40 percent capacity for Mitten Hall at the Temple University auditorium. Earlier in July of that year, Coltrane and this version of the band played 14 sold-out shows in 14 days in Japan, where the musicians were treated like movie stars. This gig, however, was a mere nine blocks away from John Coltrane’s house in Philadelphia.

Nine months later, he would be gone

At the time of the show, and after, the concert received mixed reviews. Some critics complained that too many musicians playing on the gig shifted attention away from direct overall statements. Others just outright had no time for a “sonically dense performance” from Coltrane.

Well…things change. It’s similar to Dylan switching to electric guitar at Newport, or Jimi Hendrix forming Band of Gypsys. Or even Andre 3000 of OutKast deciding to sing, instead of rap, on “Hey-Ya.”

It’s called growth.

Gone was the melodic My Favorite Things era that made people “comfortable.” For that matter, the A Love Supreme era from 1964 was gone, too.

Black folks were catching pure hell in the United States of America, and those in power were dragging  feet in changing policy. Vietnam was in its early stages, and Coltrane, always a pacifist, used his horn and compositions to unleash the rage pertaining to both situations.

So he changed the band into a rocket ship.

Pharoah Sanders joined the group, adding Pygmy type chortles, and pushing the the upper register of the tenor saxophone until an audio assault of fire came from the bell of the horn. Alice Coltrane replaced McCoy Tyner for a more contemplative percussive tone on piano. Elvin Jones was swapped out for Rasheid Ali’s “multi-directional rhythms,” a term coined for Ali by Coltrane.

And Coltrane himself changed. He started to embed wild, violent, searing exaltations of energy along with the melodic moments, creating a ying/yang, light/dark contrast in his solos. As evidenced several times in the recording, he started chanting and then banging on his chest to give the proper “vocalization” in accordance  with Pharoah Sanders’ dizzying call.

Then in the middle of compositions, pianist Alice Coltrane and drummer Rasheid Ali carry on conversations in tone and timbre. Her piano playing constructs and deconstructs the initial solos put forth by Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders with percussive chords, while Ali gently stretches time by falling behind and then pushing forward the tempo with ghost and grace notes.

This challenging, scary and brave document gives unwavering insight to how strong and bold a direction the band was heading…just a mere nine months before the band leader’s death. This spiritually enlightening piece of art achieves what all great art should aspire to be. Honest and relentless in its vision. Not giving a damn about how many people are in attendance for the performance. Or even concern on how it is received. It’s about the moment of expression, moving the soul.

Which is why it is unparallelled and still relevant,  50 years later.