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The Marsalis brothers are going to single-handedly turn John Coltrane's crowning achievement into a jazz standard. Branford Marsalis recently released a DVD/CD set of his quartet's performance of the jazz suite, recorded live in Amsterdam at Bimhuis Jazz Club. Now younger brother Wynton has provided the suite with a new spin, a big band treatment arranged by Marsalis for his Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.
The suite opens with the familiar four bass notes that are followed by a flurry of flutes and then saxophones playing Coltrane's original fanfare. "Acknowledgement" serves as the come-to-order piece of the suite, but quickly migrates into densely colored passages fueled by the brass and reeds, with the rhythm section keeping order. Marsalis solos well, capturing the probing spirit of the composer. The opening bass line is echoed off the instruments as the opening coda is reached.
The second movement "Resolution" opens with a lead line that is now certainly part of the jazz collective unconscious. The reeds rule this section with spirited tenor and alto solos all around. Drummer Herlin Riley is very much in evidence as he steers the band through heavy Hard Bop seas. Eric Reed takes an impressionistic stroll, liberating block chords and arpeggios at will. This movement is beautifully bombastic, with a thick, fast momentum. "Pursuance" continues the trend of deft ensemble writing at high tempo with a rhythm section-soprano saxophone break that propels the piece to the final movement, "Psalm."
As with the Coltrane original, "Psalm" is a quiet tome of reflection initiated here with a bass solo and languid survey of the reeds and brass. It is thought provoking and angular. Marsalis has scored this sprawling suite very effectively. The spirit of Coltrane is united with that of Ellington in this superb recording.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.