April 17, 2009
John Coltrane resides in the pantheon of most, if not all, jazz lovers. Both fans of post-bop harmonies and free-jazzers appreciate his contribution to music. Many of his compositions became standards that have been played again and again by his many admirers. But few would approach Coltrane's tunes in the funky manner of Jamaaladeen Tacuma, who confesses that his main influences were The Temptations and James Brown. Yet the prominent bassist started out his new European tour with a project entitled "Coltrane Configurations." First stop on the tour map was an April 17 date in the industrial Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, where a group of local enthusiasts, known as "Creative Jazz Fans," arrange performances by top-notch artists on a continual basis.
Coltrane Configurations is a quartet comprising the bassist-leader himself, British saxophonist Tony Kofi, Japanese pianist and keyboard player Yoichi Uzeki (original Configurations' pianist Orrin Evans became victim of a minor accident and was replaced), and American drummer Tim Hutson.
Tacuma, known for his liberal musical approach, brought the same eclecticism into John Coltrane's music. In his quartet's renditions, Coltrane is not the familiar impassioned preacher; he is rather a frolicking, playful and youthful lad, forever eager to explore the world around him. Played with a tight groove, Trane's tunes provoked the involuntary question: is this really "Impressions" or "A Love Supreme"? From the very beginning of the set one could understand the musicians' determination not to produce dull duplicates. There was no confusing any of them with bassist Jimmy Garrison, pianist McCoy Tyner, or drummer Elvin Jones.
Yet the members of Coltrane Configurations proved equally good at playing in a meditative, loose way as in handling up-tempo numbers with a tight and highly expressive funk, all supported by a solid, bass-saturated framework.
Pianist Uzeki's solo on "India" showcased bluesy phrasing with the harmonic wit of a Paul Bley. The musical movement of the performers took its inspiration from Tacuma, who magnetically attracted the audience's eyes whether performing intimate, almost erotic, dances with his guitar or singing along with it while soloing. "Impressions" displayed Kofi's outstanding circular breathing technique complemented with ecstatic shouting and phrases bursting forth from his soprano saxophone. His delivery of a blazing, rapturous solo with a unflinching face brought to mind the appearance of Coltrane himself.
The most touching moment of the night (and the closest to the spirit of Coltrane's music) was bluesy Tacuma's soloing on "Equinox," combining elongated reverberated notes with his crispy funky licks. Kofi's solo, even more bluesy and lyrical, suggested that he possessed not only immense technical skills but a flair for the dramatic.
Hutson is really versatile drummer, equally good at evocative background playing and at specifying distinct yet flexible funky rhythms. "Equinox," was just one tune that found him working empathetically with Uzeki, who played the piano no less rhythmically than melodically.
A musical narrative emanated from Uzeki's ruminations on the composition by Mongo Santamaria, made famous by John Coltrane: "Afro-Blue". More likely stemming from his background in classical music, Uzeki"s complex and deep variation made the whole audience observe with bated breath the pianist's unfolding monologue.
The last number, A Love Supreme's "Acknowledgement," was a logical and impressive encore and final statement. And though the audience seemed unwilling to respond to Tacuma's call to sing alone "A-Love-Supreme, A-Love-Supreme, A-Love-Supreme," many left the concert hall humming "na-Nah na-Nah, na-Nah na-Nah." at All About Jazz
Courtesy of Svetlana Minakova
Yoichi Uzeki at All About Jazz
Visit Yoichi Uzeki on the web
Visit Tony Kofi on the web
Visit Creative Jazz Fans on the web