23 Sep 2017: Miner Auditorium at SFJazz San Francisco, CA
Jazz great John Coltrane honored on what would be his 91st birthday with performance of his masterpiece
Jazz giant John Coltrane was only 40 years old when he passed from this Earthly plane in 1967 due to liver cancer. The SF Jazz Center has honored Coltrane on numerous occasions and again this week with a series of shows, culminating here on what would have been his 91st birthday with his son Ravi Coltrane leading a tribute performance of the sax legend’s 1964 magnum opus A Love Supreme.
Ravi Coltrane is a skilled saxophonist as well and is set to lead a band that features further family connections with bassist Matthew Garrison (son of John Coltrane Quartet bassist Jimmy Garrison) and drummer Marcus Gilmore (grandson of John Coltrane collaborator Roy Haynes.) Rounded out by trumpeter/keyboardist Nicholas Payton and guitarist Adam Rogers, the quintet’s performance has generated such a buzz that the evening features two separately ticketed performances. SF Jazz has helped raise the buzz with the release of a “Spiritual Jazz” playlist on Spotify that features tracks from masters like Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra as well as young guns like rising star Kamasi Washington.
There’s something about the spiritual jazz concept that offers a deeper sonic impact than traditional jazz for some listeners, perhaps reflecting the move toward a higher consciousness of the 1960s when jazz musicians started pushing improvisational boundaries to the point that they began to influence rock musicians like Carlos Santana and the Grateful Dead. The allure of spiritual jazz isn’t just about pushing sonic boundaries though. Coltrane himself suggested a higher purpose in the liner notes of the original album when he wrote, “During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music. I feel this has been granted through His grace. ALL PRAISE TO GOD.”
Coltrane’s A Love Supreme became an iconic landmark, an album that demanded to be listened to in its entirety in order to perceive the full sonic journey. It’s remained an influential classic through the decades and here into 2017, with Dead and Company even busting out a jam on the main theme on their summer tour. The world’s been in need of more love ever since Donald Trump and his corporatocracy cronies took over the White House, and so these shows provide a noble service in honoring this spiritual ode to ultimate love for the creator… in whatever form listeners might personally relate to themselves. Considering that Coltrane only played the classic composition in its entirety a single time (at a 1965 show in France), it’s a work of art that remains ripe for further interpretation.
Attendees are buzzing in the lobby here on this autumn equinox weekend eager to see the classic work performed, while promos also suggest the music will be “reconceived… on fiercely personal terms”. That is to be expected of course what with how the album is only 32 minutes long. There’s a sacred vibe in the Miner Auditorium as the lights go down, with a readiness of sorts in the air for a spiritual jazz performance that will take the audience higher. Ravi Coltrane and his cohorts warm up with strong performances of “Satellite” and “Crescent”, with the latter strategically being the title track from the album that preceded A Love Supreme. The quintet is loosened up now and ready to dive into the four-part suite.
The iconic opening section of “Acknowledgement” feels somewhat akin to a religious or shamanic ritual. As on the original recording, Ravi Coltrane and the musicians chant the four-note theme at the conclusion of the section, “A love supreme, a love supreme, a love supreme, a love supreme…” It feels sort of like a Buddhist mantra, and it wouldn’t seem particularly out of place if some Gyuto monks came out on stage chanting as well. Drummer Marcus Gilmore momentarily steals the show during the beginning of the “Pursuance” section, laying down some dynamic solo percussion that is about as compelling as a drum solo can be. Payton also stars here in filling the shoes of the great McCoy Tyner with a dazzling rapid-fire piano solo.
Each of the four sections—“Acknowledgement-Resolution-Pursuance-Psalm”—is performed with a vibrant delivery and improvisational flair that finds the players using the original music as a template for further exploration. The original recording didn’t even have a trumpet player or guitarist, so Payton and Rogers add extra elements here that flesh out the music in new ways. Ravi Coltrane stars time and again, playing with a flair and intensity that make him sound a lot like his father. When the show concludes some 90 minutes after it began, it’s hard to fathom where the time went as the set seems to have passed by in a flash. Great live music is known for being able to bend space and time in such a manner, and Ravi Coltrane is following in the footsteps of one of the masters.
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