All modern saxophonists worth their salt relate to John Coltrane in one way or another. Coltrane pushed boundaries and showed new paths in music and never stopped searching. Fortunately, new generations have been ready to take over and pick up on the lessons Coltrane taught.
One of them is saxophonist Dr. Teodross Avery. Spurred by his father, Avery started out playing classical guitar, but hearing Coltrane's Giant Steps (Atlantic, 1959) helped him realize that the saxophone was his right instrument, and since then he hasn't looked back. Avery has recorded as a leader for major labels and done numerous sessions and concerts as a sideman. Currently he is teaching at California State University Dominguez Hills where he is the head of Jazz Studies and Commercial Music.
As a musician and scholar, Teodross Avery is still knee-deep into Coltrane, and the album: After the Rain: A Night for Coltrane, released by Tompkins Square in a beautiful package with notes by Ben Ratliff, catches him in a spirited live concert from 2018. He covers a wide range of Coltrane's repertoire from an early composition like "Bakai" to "Pursuence" from the masterpiece A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965). But the emphasis is on Africa/Brass (Impulse!, 1961), with two tracks ("Africa" and "Blues Minor") out of that album's three tunes presented, only "Greensleeves" is missing.
Avery uses one of Coltrane's favorite formats, the quartet, and has put together a stellar formation of like-minded musicians. Pianist Adam Shulman plays with punch and melodic invention while bassist Jeff Chambers takes the group into a trance and breaks out of it just as easily as a hypnotist that snaps his finger. His bowed bass solo on "Africa" is an integrated part of the musical narrative as is the perfectly paced drum solo from Darell Green at the end of "Pursuance."
Avery himself is the one who keeps the fire burning, changing between honking outbursts and throaty intensity and softly singing melodies like the pure ballad reading of the title track. He easily balances the different aspects of Coltrane's art from the deep drink of the blues and spirituals to the ballad and avant-garde explorations. There is something here for every aficionado of Coltrane. The music is not too mainstream to throw the searchers away and not to out there to lose those who still like the concept of grooves and melodies.
There is reason to be grateful for the work that John Coltrane left behind, but it's important to remember that this legacy is still relevant for today's music. Pharoah Sanders, a master in his own right, is still playing Coltrane and Theodross Avery is another example of someone who still finds new secrets to unlock in his music. It's a privilege to hear someone dig so deep into Coltrane.
Blues Minor; Bakai; Afro Blue; After the Rain; Africa; Pursuance.
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