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Michelle Coltrane: Awakening

Dan Bilawsky By

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Yes, that Coltrane. Vocalist Michelle Coltrane, the offspring of pianist Alice McLeod (and vocalist Kenny Hagood) and the stepdaughter of saxophone icon John Coltrane, has one of the strongest musical pedigrees around. She was, quite literally, born and raised into musical legend. But her background and lineage hasn't put undue pressure on her development or musical choices. For the past two decades she's followed her own path, putting family before artistic advancement and putting her singing career on pause. Now, with a little more time for herself, Coltrane's musical awakening has come with the arrival of her second album.

With drummer-percussionist Gerry Gibbs and guitarist Shea Welsh serving as her primary guiding hands, Coltrane delivers eleven numbers that artfully meld jazz, pop, adult contemporary, and R&B strains. There are notable ties to her famous family—covers of "My Favorite Things" and "Moment's Notice," the appearance of a soprano-wielding Ravi Coltrane on a pair of originals, the voice of her late mother at the outset of "Out Of The Shadows"—but they prove only tangential, not characteristic in nature. Michelle Coltrane stands on her own two feet throughout.

A few twists on the familiar prove to be the high points on this playlist. Gibbs' album-opening arrangement of "My Favorite Things" takes on bright harmonic hues and shakes the dust off, Paul McDonald's re-write of "All The Things You Are" is slinky and sophisticated, and the Foreigner-associated, Coltrane/Welsh-arranged "I Want To Know What Love Is" loses its dated and kitsch qualities, taking on a mystically attractive vibe. In those instances and elsewhere, Coltrane receives expert support. With a personnel list that includes heavyweights like bassist Lonnie Plaxico and up-and-comer pianist Cameron Graves, along with her aforementioned collaborators and other first-rate artists, the music is always up to snuff.

There are spots in this program that may be a tad too smooth or sedate for a good portion of the jazz set—"Baby Blue," the strings-enhanced "Love & Spring," the pacifying "Out Of The Shadows"—but they take nothing away from Michelle Coltrane's position as a singer. Her vocal skills are beyond dispute and her vision is clear and intact across Awakening.

Track Listing: My Favorite Things; Cove Island; Moment's Notice; Wouldn't It Be Nice; Tin Man; Baby Blue; All The Things You Are; I Want To Know What Love Is; Same Ole Love; Love & Spring; Out Of The Shadows.

Personnel: Michelle Coltrane: vocals; Lonnie Plaxico: bass (1, 3, 6, 9); Alex Collins: piano, Fender Rhodes, vocals (1, 3, 6, 9); Gerry Gibbs: drums, conga drums, vibraphone, golckenspiel, keyboards, tambourine, vocals (1, 3, 6, 9); Ravi Coltrane: soprano saxophone (2, 11); Shea Welsh: guitar, MIDI Keyboard, vocals (2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 11); Abe Lagrimas, Jr.: drums (2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 11); Edwin Livingston: bass (2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11); Ramon Yslas: percussion (2, 4, 8, 11); Cameron Graves: piano, keyboards (2, 4, 7, 8); Ron Jerome Avant: piano, keyboard (5, 11); Alice Coltrane: spoken word (11); Miguel Atwood-Ferguson: strings (10); Mahesh Balasooriya: piano (7); Andrew Kellar: vocals (11).

Title: Awakening | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Blujazz Productions

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