Mike Mainieri: Crescent (2010)
Vibraphonist Mike Mainieri might have initially set out to create a tribute to one saxophone giant when he recorded this album, but Crescent actually pays respects to two reed players of note. The material on this two-CD set was written and/or performed by John Coltrane or was part of his repertoire at one time or another, and his legacy looms large here. Mainieri got together with saxophonist Charlie Mariano and bassist Dieter Ilg and, with no prior rehearsal or prearranged material, created a magical document, largely made up of first takes. Mariano's health problems, at the time of this 2005 recording, foreshadowed his passing in 2009, but he encouraged Mainieri to release this music, and it serves as a fitting testimony to the saxophonist's musical prowess and passionate playing.
While musical tributes to Coltrane are a dime a dozen in the jazz world, this one stands out for several reasons: first, the intimate trio setting of vibraphone, alto saxophone and bass; second, most Coltrane tributes rely on a tenor saxophonist to bear their brunt, but Mariano's alto easily carries the load; third, Mariano's first-hand connection to the saxophone icon's legacythe altoist actually performed and recorded with Coltrane's two most notable sidemen (pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones) during the 1960s, so he is intimately familiar with all things Coltrane.
Despite the vibraphone's classification as a percussion instrument, the lack of a heavy percussive force on this album is the last point of significance. Coltrane was always spurred on and inspired by percussive elements, whether addressing Jones' tumbling swing, riding over Rashied Ali's shower of notes or butting up against Tyner's heavy-handed wall of sound on the piano. No such driving force exists here, but the rhythmic acumen of all involved and Ilg's terrific bass work locks everything in, and intensity is still present in all the right places.
Despite these differences from other Coltrane tributes, the spiritual aspects often associated with his music are retained in many places here. Mariano's work over the haunting backgrounds on "Wise One" and "Naima" give these pieces a certain amount of weight. "Ole" carries a slight Spanish tinge and features some rhythmically buoyant bass work and playful lines from Mainieri, and "Miles' Mode" is equally engaging, with its emphasis on rhythmic intensity as the song begins. Ilg adds some funk to the proceedings on "I Love You" and a reworked version of "Giant Steps," which also has a strong Latin leaning.
Fans of Coltrane's music, admirers of any of the musicians involved with this project and anybody looking to observe the art of a trio with less-common instrumentation, will all find something to appreciate on Crescent.
Track Listing: Mr. Syms; Like Someone In Love; I Love You; Wise One; Nancy; Ole; Naima; Crescent; Bye Bye Blackbird; Miles' Mode; What's New; Giant Steps; Body And Soul; America.
Personnel: CD1: Mr. Syms; Like Someone In Love; I Love You; Wise One; Nancy; Ole; Naima. CD2: Crescent; Miles' Mode; What's New; Giant Steps; Body And Soul; America.