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John Coltrane's Music Gets New Life at Lincoln Center

Nick Catalano By

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In jazz history, the often ignored contributions of the great arranger/orchestrators can never be overestimated. It was Jelly Roll Morton's orchestral writing that enabled "Black Bottom Stomp" to soar. In trumpeter Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain (Columbia, 1960), it was Gil Evans' pen that created the magic. At Town Hall, it was Hall Overton's arrangements that brought the audience into the soul of pianist Thelonious Monk.

As the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra once again took up the challenge of John Coltrane's oeuvre on Friday night, October 26, 2012, it was the musicians' arranging skills that provided the sparkle for a memorable concert. In recent years, director/trumpeter Wynton Marsalis has sought to extrapolate the writing talent from his band of merry musicians which has already improvised its way into the jazz hall of fame. The result has unleashed a cornucopia of delicious arrangements that continue to supply layers of cream to the musical cake and establish new standards of achievement for the LCJO.

Trombonist Ron Westray's crisp arrangement of Coltrane"s "Song of the Underground Railroad" started matters off as it unleashed articulate solos from saxophonist Walter Blanding Jr., trombonist Elliot Mason and trumpeter Kenny Rampton. Blanding's solo instantly recalled Coltrane's insistence on sustained, one-noted howls and exhaustively repeated phrases which quickly became his trademark.

Along about 1961, Coltrane discovered Indian music, meeting sitarist Ravi Shankar and recording "India" in a live concert at the Village Vanguard with saxophonist/flautist/clarinetist Eric Dolphy. Marsalis' crafted arrangement of this opus brought saxophonist Joshua Redman-the evening's featured soloist-onto the stage.

Redman's playing was remarkable. He precisely articulated Coltrane's eastern scales and modal colors with a thrilling freshness and vibrancy that transcended the original. The sheer thoughtfulness of his improvisations was uniquely powerful. Concluding "India," Redman installed a compelling cadenza, which cleverly segued into the rapid-fire head of Blandings' arrangement of "Giant Steps." Here, the LCJO paraded its version of the 3 Tenors, as Blandings, and Victor Goines paved the way, interspersed with pianist Dan Nimmer's languorous lines and Ted Nash's haunting flute solo.

Trombonist Vincent Gardner's arrangement of "Like Sonny" occasioned another solo gem from Redman, as it wove through the complex multi-keyed composition. Saxophonist Sherman Irby's arrangement of "Mr. Day" and Nash's arrangement of "My Favorite Things" were other highlights of an evening which celebrated the orchestrating talent of writing jazz musician as few concerts ever have.

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