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Saxophonist Steve Heckman's second album is a continuation of his pursuit of John Coltrane. The middle period referred to on these eight tracks spans the late 1950s (from recordings on Prestige and Atlantic). Having not heard Heckman's debut, this is a pleasure to listen to, among the several Coltrane homages over the past few years. Heckman is originally from Brooklyn and came from the same neighborhood as hornmen Steve Grossman, Bob Berg, and Dave Liebman. Now relocated in the San Francisco Bay area, he is currently working with four other groups, in addition to his own quartet
The session was recorded live at the Oakland jazz club Yoshi's in 2001 before an appreciative audience. The first three selections underline Heckman's affinity for Coltrane's style of that time, beginning with an unusually up-tempo version of the Mal Waldron classic "Soul Eyes." On the following ten-minute take of Trane's "Equinox," Heckman delivers a stunning solo which is right on target, with some nice punchy bebop work from pianist Matt Clark. The two ballads, also from the Coltrane songbook, "You're A Weaver of Dreams" and "Blame It On My Youth," also display the sensitivity and attention to melody that Trane showed on his love songs. "Theosphere" has a most Monk-like melody that is played on soprano sax in a style that's typical of the pianist's Riverside years, and it's quite attractive. The original "Ode to the Sunsinger" is based upon Coltrane's "Mr. Knight" from his Atlantic period.
Live at Yoshi's does not represent a slavish imitation of John Coltrane. Rather, it is an extension of Steve Heckman's inspiration and, as such, should be a welcome experience for listeners. Since this album was recorded four years ago, I wonder what Steve Heckman is up to these days.