[JPL] Following, With Ease, in Giant Footsteps

Lazaro Vega wblv.wblu.fm at gmail.com
Wed Sep 27 00:25:19 EDT 2006

On the way down to Ann Arbor Saturday for Alice Coltrane's Translinear
Light Quartet celebration of John Coltrane's 80th Birthday, I'd heard
all of a Louis Armstrong Jubilee broadcast with his orchestra,
Rochester, special guest Jack Benny, M.C. Ernie Bubbles Whitman, some
good tunes for Armstrong, and a feature for Joe Garland, is it?,
tenor; as well as the companion concert on the cd by Red Allen with
J.C. Higginbotham, alto Don Stovall, Bigard....and had just switched
to the first Coltrane live at the Village Vanguard CD when the storm

Unrelenting heavy rain gusting winds all the way from this side of
Grand Rapids to Lansing. Washers high speed and just white to silver
to gray searching for red. There were tornado warnings in Kent County
my wife says on the celli as outside somewhere are farms. Zero
visibility for stretches first in single lane construction then amid
football traffic. I voted to myself to not turn around three times as
that danger was past, why turn around and drive into it again because
it had to be better on down the road.The luck of the Irish screwed
Michigan State but it kept my ass behind some Ted Nugent white Rancher
and followed his taillights, a freak angel amid the weather fury of
John Coltrane's 80th birthday.

After Lansing cruise control again and, after Brighton, a switch from
the Vanguard set to WEMU, and they took me right to the ramp on Thayer
across from Hill Auditorium with an incredible 80t Birthday tribute.
Spontaneously literate radio. Came in on what might have been
"Equinox." Listened to "Mr. Sims" before leaving.

Alice Coltrane's Translinear Light Quartet began the concert with a
number -- I wrote nothing down -- which recalled the meditative tempo
and three bass drum beats that Coltrane blew so much over. Roy Haynes
just pulsed the concert to life with his foot pedal and ever
elaborating poly rhythms.

Charlie Haden was not heard well in the first set -- there was no
punch to his sound, and the large vibrational low end was in Haynes
bass drum and Mrs. Coltrane's left hand on her Wurlitzer organ, which
also brought out the Eastern aspect in sound and, under her hands, an
improvisational concept exploring incrementally different intervals,
widening and contracting them in insistent flutters but driven by an
energy which reminded me of John Coltrane's. Her ability to leap
registers with both hands playing harmonic counterpoint against each
other sounded like an elaboration on Coltrane's band.

There was a lovely piano/bass duet with Haden in the first set,
though, and then Haden was well featured. His deliberate, simple
variation on three notes gave the concert Ornette's improvisational
approach, a nice layer to the evening as a reminder of Ornette's
influence on Trane.

Haden and Haynes hooked up, though, as Haden creates his own drones
without a bow and Roy dances with it. She leaves little by the way of
breathing points, especially on Wurlitzer. Roy elbowed his way in and
took it up during "Impressions," bringing pithy, fast tom-tom and
cymbal riffs which grew in intensity and length as the number built.
Brought the house down. It wasn't while with Ravi -- could anything
top John Coltrane and Roy Haynes at Newport 1963? -- but as Alice
continued to lengthen her modal verging on free method solo Haynes led
the band to an early high point in the concert.

The show had its moments.

Alice Coltrane's one trip to the synthesizer was a star gaze, and a
relief from the sameness in dynamic range of the Wurlitzer.

The first number featured piano, and she played piano during the
encore, taking the bass vamp from "A Love Supreme" to heart with her
left hand. Her piano solos were beautiful, ornate terms of
exploration, gentle in spirit. Ravi's brightest moment was during
"Leo." After Ravi's familiarity with Coltrane's later approach, and
Alice's long exploration, Haden zeroed in on that opening interval,
the mere hint of a "head," throughout his solo on "Leo" and it was
mind blowing.

The film after intermission was a well written, tastefully done
tribute, and it filled in Alice Coltrane's years off the
recording/touring scene (teaching and developing institution) and her
activity since returning to playing in 1998. The film was comic, too,
in it strung together clips of Hollywood film actors talking about
John Coltrane via dialogue in popular movies.

Big love in the house last night for Alice Coltrane, who is from
nearby Detroit. Having Coltrane's family in one spot for his 80th
birthday -- history is ongoing. Ideas alive and evolving.

Of course nothing will top Coltrane's own band with Alice. Hearing Roy
Haynes with her was interesting as he's very different than Rashied
Ali, or even DeJohnette. Haden and Haynes held the show together, kept
rhythmic textures changing enough in intensity and dynamic variety
that Alice's deep explorations of time extending into time like a Raga
took more shape than a monochromatic line. Together everyone gave the
now version of the sounds Coltrane's band with Alice inspired, and
included the surviving drummer from John's own great quartet, and a
fulcrum member of a quartet which deeply inspired Coltrane. No wonder
people were standing and cheering for five minutes before the band
played a note -- there's still something going on out there.

The writer and WEMU producer George Klein was sitting in the same
aisle. He's another great one. George, and all of WEMU, is concerned
with drawing more young people to jazz. It was good to talk to him.
His daughter is an editor at Metro Times in Detroit. Klein helped me
with instructions out of there. Before hitting US 23 off Washtenaw my
wife was on the phone giving me the play by play on the Michigan State

The rest of the way home, with one stop for gas in Okemos -- the
football fans were spinning angry tires on the wet pavement there --
it was The Art Ensemble 1967/68 (Nessa) discs one and most of disc 2.
Love "Theme Statements." Was enlightened by the first take of "Tatas
Matas" as it is so tentative compared to the "master." Could listen to
"Old" forever.

Though Bowie's long solo on "Quartet No. 1" is an incredible thing to
hear, as is Philip Wilson's drumming as he follows some melodic events
with the suggestion of an energy music ride cymbal only to trail off
in diminuendo and slow down to silence, the over all performance
eventually lost me with the long, long rests and elaborate events that
came out of them. Thought the use of silence on "Quartet No. 2" was
more "composed," or more under control, and that the richer textures
of the second piece more engaging. Of course this music was
revolutionary for it's time and is still all about sound first, and
how sound makes music.

"Trio (Oh, Suzannah)" was back to Trane, in the sense of elaborate
variation of a simple theme using, for 1967, a new improvisational
approach to duration and intensity. Though Roscoe's intro is anything
but rubato tension building in the same way as Trane's quartet, and
his overlay of irony in a post modern genre crossing is in another
emotional dimension than "My Favorite Things."

Two o'clock and good to be home having sandwich and a beer, looking at
ESNP hype the comeback on Michigan State as Notre Dame's season saving
emotional shot in the arm after being pasted by U of M the week

John Coltrane's 80th Birthday, September 23, 2006. What a jolt.

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