When three prominent saxophone players come together to honor one of their highly regarded brethren, and include compositions by one of the most revered instrumentalists ever, the listener is in for a treat. So it is with Seraphic Light by Saxophone Summit, led by the trio of Ravi Coltrane, Joe Lovano and Dave Liebman.
Saxophone Summit began in the 1990s with Lovano, Liebman and the late Michael Breckerthree contemporary instrumentalists who revisit the exploratory style of John Coltrane. Their first album, Gathering of Spirits (Telarc, 2004), received many accolades. However, the death of Brecker in early 2007 set back any plans for a follow-up recording. Ravi Coltrane, the second son of John and Alice Coltrane who was named after India-born sitar specialist Ravi Shankar, has stepped in for this tribute to both Coltrane and Brecker.
Pianist Phil Markowitz composed and arranged "Transitions," which features Ravi Coltrane on tenor, Liebman on soprano and Lovano also on tenor. While it does have some melodic moments, it's largely an example of free expression. Markowitz adds a subtle yet engaging solo, while drummer Billy Hart and bassist Cecil McBee help set the pace.
"Message to Mike" was written and arranged by Michael Brecker's brother, Randy Brecker. It features Randy Brecker on trumpet, Coltrane and Lovano on tenor, and Liebman on soprano. This track is like crashing John Coltrane into Miles Davis with a little Freddie Hubbard. All of the saxophones are engaged, each doing its own thing behind Brecker during one sequence. All four horns perform the melodywhen there is one. Even then, they're not always in harmony, and definitely not in unison. It's about as individualistic as a group of musicians can get, yet still sounding like they're in the same band. When the horns take a much-needed breather, Markowitz, Hart and McBee close out the track.
The title song is the second of three John Coltrane compositions that close out this setall arranged by Liebman. "Seraphic Light" features Coltrane and Liebman on tenor, with Lovano on double soprano. The song begins in brooding fashion to deliver the subliminal message that great artists, like the highest order of angels, leave too quickly; but live on as their work inspires others. A good portion of this track leaves Hart in the background while the saxophones express themselves freely. When Markowitz and McBee rejoin, it sounds like six musicians going in different directions, though somehow remaining a unit. The horns eventually pass the light on to the piano. Hart goes it alone for a good bit, working almost exclusively with the toms before adding the snare and cymbals.
Coltrane, Liebman and Lovano each play different members of the saxophone family. On selected tracks, Liebman also plays C flute and wooden flute, and Lovano plays alto clarinet and Scottish flute. Though seven of the 10 tracks are original compositions, they all sound like vintage John Coltrane, making this a fitting tribute.