[JPL] Taking Coltrane’s Music and Making It Their Own

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Mon Sep 18 17:37:03 EDT 2006

September 16, 2006
Music Review
Taking Coltrane’s Music and Making It Their Own 
Jazz at Lincoln Center began its new season on
Thursday with the first of three nights devoted to the
music of John Coltrane. The occasion doubled as an
early celebration of what would have been Coltrane’s
80th birthday (Sept. 23) — cake was served during
intermission — and an opening salvo for the
organization’s third year of programming in Frederick
P. Rose Hall at Columbus Circle. It was a success on
both counts.

Wynton Marsalis played host, and horn, in “Coltrane,”
a concert at the Rose Theater featuring his Jazz at
Lincoln Center Orchestra. (“Coltrane and Hartman,”
with the saxophonist Todd Williams and the singer
Kevin Mahogany, was scheduled for last night and
tonight in the Allen Room.) The program featured a
dozen of Coltrane’s compositions, mostly in
arrangements for the full orchestra.

Some were conventional enlargements: essentially
vehicles for improvisation. The saxophone interludes
and brass accents on “Giant Steps,” for instance, were
less interesting than the brisk solo fashioned by its
arranger, Mr. Marsalis. “Big Nick,” in a big-band
chart by Richard DeRosa, mainly served as a bluesy
showcase for the saxophonist Sherman Irby. “Like
Sonny,” as arranged by Vincent Gardner, was a
screeching thrill ride; still, its most memorable
feature was a passage featuring some excellent
choruses by Erica vonKleist on flute.

The promise of an orchestral interrogation of
Coltrane’s themes was fulfilled in several other
arrangements, which took liberties with dynamics and
timbre. The melody of “Naima,” in an arrangement by
Victor Goines, was harmonized for five bass clarinets;
the bridge fell to a single muted trombone. Ted Nash
imbued “Grand Central” with some intricate
cross-voicings, while his arrangement of “My Favorite
Things,” the Rodgers and Hammerstein bonbon that
Coltrane turned epic, assigned the melody in unison to
five soprano saxophones. 

Mr. Marsalis’s version of “Alabama” was another
highlight, both gorgeous and unsettling. The baritone
saxophonist Joe Temperley played its haunting line
with quiet intensity over an eerie trill of brass and
reeds. Mr. Marsalis prefaced the piece with some
background: it was Coltrane’s response to the bombing
of a Baptist church in Birmingham that killed four
girls. So the weight of the piece was lost on no one.

Two things were missing from the concert. One was any
reference to Coltrane’s squalling late period, which
Jazz at Lincoln Center will acknowledge on Wednesday
with a discussion called “Did Coltrane Lose His Way?”
(The panelists, including Coltrane’s drummer from
those years, Rashied Ali, seem predisposed to dismiss
that question.) 

More conspicuously absent was the immersive thrust of
Coltrane’s rhythm section, which could make a vamp
feel like a voyage. The pianist Dan Nimmer sounded
unconvinced about the hammering modal style of McCoy
Tyner, his counterpart in the Coltrane quartet. Dennis
Irwin, a veteran bassist, and Ali Jackson, the
orchestra’s drummer, threw themselves into the music,
but they had few opportunities to lift it off the

One came in the concert’s final moments, during a solo
on “Africa” that had Walter Blanding straining and
surging on tenor saxophone, while Mr. Jackson thrashed
powerfully beneath him. It was the only moment in the
evening that summoned the sound of Coltrane more than
the idea. But that’s partly why the concert worked so
well: it played to the orchestra’s strengths, and
bypassed mimicry to signal a deeper respect. 

The Coltrane Festival repeats tonight at Frederick P.
Rose Hall,60th Street and Broadway; (212) 721-6500


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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