Alice Coltrane Quartet
Translinear Light: A Celebration of John Coltrane's 80th Birthday
Ann Arbor, Michigan
September 23, 2006
Already a certifiable rara avis considering that only a handful of dates had been scheduled for this tour featuring Alice Coltrane and her quartet, an Ann Arbor audience was additionally blessed with a performance honoring the legacy of John Coltrane that actually fell on the exact date of what would have been the iconic saxophonist's 80th birthday. The excitement was certainly palpable that evening, a photograph of Coltrane in a peaceful and meditative moment beckoning from the far right hand side of the stage. Certainly much would be expected considering the sizeable talents involved, namely Ravi Coltrane, Charlie Haden, and Roy Haynes. Ultimately the evening proved to be somewhat of a mixed bag as passages of sublime improvisation mingled with those less inspired moments of meandering cacophony.
The evening opened with "Translinear Light, followed closely by "Sita Ram. Ravi displayed his unique talents on soprano saxophone, avoiding any comparisons with his father and ultimately following a path of his own in terms of sound and approach. Alice's creative muse on piano can be somewhat of an acquired taste, often dense and void of a conventional sense of swing. This quality can sometimes be off setting when heard in context of the entire rhythm section as is goes against the grain of the implied groove. However, in tandem with just Haden on "Prema, the elasticity of her rhythmic conception was allowed to flourish unhindered by a definite pulse, leading to a much more satisfying performance.
Clocking in at around 50 minutes, the first half of the show concluded with a workout on "Impressions. Ravi and the rhythm section led the way before Alice's entrance, her Wurlitzer organ emitting swirls of sound that added an additional layer of complexity to an already charged presentation. Haynes built his solo to a fiery climax with an energetic display of pyrotechnics, leaping to his feet for a few cymbal crashes that provided the ending punctuation to a superb short story. At 81 years of age, the drummer continues to be a marvel of musicality.
Much of the closing set was devoted to a mildly interesting video tribute to Coltrane, followed by a performance of "Equinox featuring two University of Michigan students who were recipients of Coltrane Foundation scholarships. More of Ravi's tenor work were then heard on "Jagadishwar and "Leo, the music really beginning to jell at this point. Both Haden and Haynes were also both heard at length, leading to a swell of applause that ensured an encore.
Returning to the stage, the quartet proceeded to explore the familiar line of the opening section of A Love Supreme with a funk groove that shed a different light on this classic. During Haden's bass solo, the piece morphed into "Wise One, before a return to the vamp that opened the performance. Like the other pieces directly associated with the elder Coltrane, Alice and her cohorts managed to bring something fresh and intriguing to the table while still paying homage to the spirit of an endearing jazz innovator, even as her own contributions were largely overshadowed by the other soloists.
C. Andrew Hovan