You could argue that every post-Coltrane recording of serious saxophone music has been informed by the legacy and spirit of the man himself. Yet it takes a musician (or musicians) of a particular stature and gravity to pull off an explicit tribute by interpreting some of his legendary compositions without sending you straight back to the originals. You could also argue that no single saxophonist is up to the task. So, the Saxophone Summit
gives you three.
On Gathering of Spirits
, Michael Brecker, Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano, supported by rock-solid drummer Billy Hart, longtime Liebman collaborator Phil Markowitz on piano and veteran bass man Cecil McBee, turn (most of) their attention to Coltrane's underappreciated later period and make the case for its inclusion in the canon. The CD opens with "Alexander the Great," a seven-minute post bop workout that feels as if the band is just warming up. The tentative, cautionary piano intro that begins Markowitz' "The 12th Man," the sinuous repetition of the beat and Hart's shimmering cymbals all establish the mood for the horns to make their statements. Brecker runs from the lower to upper register in his sore-throat solo. Lovano is abundant and smooth, swinging just a little tighter than his compatriots. Liebman trills and coos on soprano.
The intentional exoticism of "India" is addressed with a chorus of wooden flutes above McBee's bubbling bass before Brecker prods his tenor into anguish, its urgency heightened by the mantra-like response of Liebman's ascent on soprano. The divine melody of "Peace on Earth," in a relatively succinct treatment, is rescued from Trane's own protracted explorations of the tune and "Tricycle" is a series of trios linked by brief ensemble playing. The disc closes with the title track, the recording's freest piece, bolstered by Liebman's weaving of his own tenor between the other two, like steel embedded in concrete.
Be advised: this is no cutting contest. These players are summoning Coltrane to inspire each other to greater heights, not slice each other down to size.