was revered during his all-too-brief career and in the 42 years since his death, his legacy has only loomed larger as improvised music has fragmented and factioned. Conservatives embrace him for his stunning technique and the giant musical steps he took in the late '50s; the radicals love him for his championing of what has been called fire music by both fans and detractors. The last four decades have seen new recordings surface, countless reissues and, of course, myriad tribute projects. These four homages encompass the entirety of Coltrane's unique vision and there's something here to satisfy every taste.
Most of the Coltrane material referenced is of the modal period, as it allows quite a lot of freedom. Furthest out is the wild live recording Coltrane Configurations
by bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma
's new group dedicated to performing Coltrane's music. It's infused with all the funk and machismo one would expect, especially on a barnburner like "India," where exploration abounds and the stratosphere is reached. Tacuma's playing is as majestic as ever and it is a real pleasure to hear "India" imbued with such energy. The project is certainly not all fire and brimstone, however, and "Naima" shows the group in quite a sensitive mode. "A Love Supreme" reaches spiritual heights, with audience participation, rounding off a very enjoyable tribute.
Saxophonist Azar Lawrence
and vibraphonist Khan Jamal
offer up projects slightly closer to the small-group sound that Coltrane cultivated in the late '50s-early '60s. There is just a shade of coolness in Jamal's Impressions of Coltrane
, evident as he and his group swing breezily into the mid-tempo blues of "Cousin Mary." It pervades his gorgeous take on "Central Park West," he and pianist Farid Barron sliding effortlessly through the complex changes. Jamal even manages to keep his solo on the visceral "Afro Blue" light and airy, despite heavy pedaling and traversing the whole range of the instrument.
Lawrence's two-saxophone group presents a more heated approach on Legacy and Music of John Coltrane
, his hard-edged sound, honed through early experience with former Coltrane pianist McCoy Tyner, exuding wisdom. His take on the ballad "I Want to Talk About You" exhibits the strident tone of Coltrane's versions while "My Favorite Things" is reminiscent of the 1965 Newport version in its on-edge all-inclusive aesthetic, aided by Mark Lomax II's energetic drumming. As with Tacuma, he's spurred on by an enthusiastic audience.
Pianist Joel Holmes
' disc African Skies
stands apart for its orchestrational intrigue. He seems to be following up on the implications of Coltrane's increasingly disparate soundworld, as on his subtly orchestrated rendering of Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage." The title track's intro also sports the meterless freedom of Coltrane's final works, making it a very refreshing moment before the tune's complexities kick in.
Each approach is uniqueif for no other reason than the four different instruments played by each leaderand the versions of each tune bear comparison quite well. Each artist acknowledges Coltrane without being enslaved to his influence, making these discs especially enjoyable in their diversity.
Tracks and Personnel Coltrane Configurations
Tracks: India; Dahomey Dance; Impressions; Naima; A Love Supreme.
Personnel: Jamaaladeen Tacuma: bass; Tony Kofi: alto and soprano sax; Orrin Evans: keyboards; Tim hutson: drums. Impressions of Coltrane
Tracks: Cousin Mary; Blues for P.C.; Central Park West; Afro Blue; Mr. P.C.; Naima; One Down One Up; Impressions.
Personnel: Khan Jamal: vibes; Farid Barron: piano; Curtis Lundi: bass; Edgar Bateman: drums. Legacy and Music of John Coltrane
Tracks: I Want to Talk About You; Mr. P.C.; Impressions; My Favorite Things.
Personnel: Azar Lawrence, Edwin Bayard: tenor sax; William Mennefield: piano; Dean Hulette: bass; Mark Lomax II: drums. African Skies
Tracks: African Skies; Impressions; Chinese Fishing Song; Mr. P.C.; Fatima; Summer Night; Impressions (take 2); Maiden Voyage; Soliquey of Troubled Waters; Moments Notice.
Personnel: Joel Holmes: piano; Gary Thomas, Tim Green: reeds; Eric Kennedy: drums; Jeff Reed, Eric Wheeler: bass; Melena: percussion; Themba Mikhatshwa: conga, djembe; Chun-Wen Chuan: cello; Chia Yin Holmes: violin.