Over the years, there have been many recorded tributes to John Coltrane but saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin takes the concept farther by paying homage to the work of both John and his wife, Alice Coltrane. Benjamin plays their compositions in a wide range of settings with a large cast of musicians, including a couple who actually worked with one or both of the Coltranes.
There are treatments here that hew close to the spiritual and mystical force of the original versions, and others that take some liberties and bring in more contemporary ideas. For example "Syeeda's Song Flute" has a lush layer of electric piano by David Bryant underpinning the wails of Benjamin's alto and Keyon Harrold's trumpet while Ron Carter and Darrell Green play combustible rhythms underneath. "Spiral" provides a twitchy salsa backdrop to a hard-charging alto exchange by Benjamin and Steve Wilson. The most radical revision comes on "Central Park West" which is turned into a combination of smooth jazz and hip hop beats with organ, harp and the scatted vocals of Jazzmeia Horn all adding to the potency of the lazy groove.
Besides all the Coltrane works, two old hymns, "Walk With Me" and "Going Home" are also performed as part of the homage to Alice Coltrane. Both are filled with rolling gospel power. Regina Carter's violin is prominent on the first and the second is brought to full orchestral majesty with the aid of Brandee Younger on harp, Marcus Strickland on bass clarinet and a full string section. As for Alice's actual compositions, "Prema" is played with a string-laden Middle Eastern rhythm and Gamiel Lyons vamping on flute besides the alto, while "Turiya and Ramakrishna" is done in a simple jazz combo format with Surya Botofasina's piano trembling underneath Benjamin's soulful blowing.
As for John's compositions, "Om Shanti" is the most purely devotional part of the album, with Georgia Anne Muldrow chanting a prayer over rippling alto and electric piano, then singing into a slow-building frenzy over a swirling chorus of voices and MeShell NdegeOcello's and Joe Blaxx's laidback r'n'b groove. "Alabama" gets a simple, dignified treatment with the pianos of Sharp Radway and Bertha Hope plus the basses of Reggie Workman and Lonnie Plaxico all bubbling under Benjamin's eloquent lamentation. Two sections of "A Love Supreme" get played; on "Acknowledgement" Abiodun Oyewole of the Last Poets speaks about Coltrane in a raspy but authoritative voice, then Dee Dee Bridgewater comes in chanting "A Love Supreme" and scatting wildly over Benjamin's powerful cry.
There are a lot of musicians and a lot of different musical approaches on this album but the powerful alto voice of Lakecia Benjamin holds it all together. She plays with appropriate majesty whether moaning over soulful beats or roaring in high energy duels with other alto players, like Gary Bartz on "Liberia" and both Greg Osby and Bruce Williams on "Affinity." This is an amazing and ambitious tribute to the long-lasting influence of John and Alice Coltrane.
Liberia; Prema; Central Park West; Walk With Me; Going Home; Syreeta's Song Flute; Spiral; Om Shanti;
Acknowledgement; Turiya and Ramakrishna; Affinity.
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