Recorded eight months before his death from liver cancer, the concert album Offering: Live at Temple University features legendary jazz saxophonist John Coltrane performing with his quintet in his hometown of Philadelphia on November 11, 1966.
Although it's been available in various incomplete bootleg forms over the years, Resonance's Offering is the first official, complete, and fully mastered version to be released.
Produced from a set of long-lost master tapes rediscovered by Coltrane's son, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, Offering showcases the late jazz innovator's final ensemble featuring his wife, keyboardist Alice Coltrane, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, bassist Sonny Johnson (sitting in for Jimmy Garrison), drummer Rashied Ali, and a coterie of local guest musicians.
However, rather than a lesser version of Coltrane's once classic quartet, this ensemble seems to have codified the spiritually infused free jazz, modal, and Indian raga influences Coltrane had been exploring since the early '60s.
Gone was the internal band discord over the use of two drummers (Tyner and Jones' purported bugaboo), replaced by an ensemble of like-minded musicians unified as much by spiritual concerns as creative ones.
Beginning with an epic version of his classic 1960 composition "Naima," Coltrane and his group perform with a sustained intensity and creative focus that would soon become a major element of Coltrane lore after his passing.
Yet, here they are: the sheets of arpeggiated sound gushing from his saxophone in a burnished oaken moan, the frenetic squelch of Sanders and Coltrane's dual opening to "Leo," and the subsequent mid-track "vocalizations" -- long debated in almost mythological terms by fans who saw Coltrane live -- captured here in all their unnerving, otherworldly glory.
And while there certainly is something otherworldly and transformative about Offering, it's also utterly tangible, visceral, and organically Technicolor in the way only the best live performances are.
There's also a balance to the performances on Offering.
By 1966, Coltrane had become infamous for his band's extended solos, purportedly shutting down clubs with cacophonous 20-minute improvisations.
The longest song here, an inspired reworking of his indelible 1960 version of "My Favorite Things," clocks in at 23:20 and reveals an ensemble fully capable of guiding an audience on a logical, if no less adventurous, journey through well-charted musical territory.
Listening to Alice Coltrane propel herself through "My Favorite Things," her sparkling, hard bop-inflected keyboard lines as generously abundant as her husband's, is to experience something strangely familiar yet completely new.
By the time you get to 18-year-old college student Steve Knoblauch's utterly unhinged guest improvisation, you aren't so much confused as astounded that the group members lose none of their euphoric intensity while they buoy him, his throaty aggression bridging toward Coltrane's laser-fire soprano return.
Ultimately, though we will never know where Coltrane would have taken his music had he lived, Offering works as a live culmination of Coltrane's musical journey, a homecoming and spiritual communion with the deep, creative forces that drove him right until the end of his life and, based on the music here, one can only assume beyond.