The 2011 Chicago Jazz Festival: Ambitious Programming

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Monday September 19, 2011


Excerpt from: The 2011 Chicago Jazz Festival: Ambitious Programming
By: David Whiteis

Booking the Saxophone Summit’“Joe Lovano, David Liebman and Ravi Coltrane, along with pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart’“after Deep Blue took both chutzpah and faith. Would a crowd attuned to the trio’s nightclubby vibe have ears big enough to handle the uncompromisingly free explorations of Lovano, Liebman and Coltrane as they paid tribute to Coltrane’s legendary father? Yes, as it turned out, and all the more remarkably, perhaps, given that the selections they chose to highlight were mostly from Trane’s most challenging and controversial period. Their set included two movements from 1965’s Meditations (‘The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost’ and ‘Compassion’), ‘India’ (the closest thing to a Coltrane ‘standard’ on offer), and ‘Seraphic Light’ (from Stellar Regions, a 1995 release culled from one of Trane’s last studio sessions).

For the first twenty minutes or so, it sounded as if the three hornmen were trying to out-Trane Trane’“a hopeless task, especially when you consider that Trane himself was the master of deconstructing his own music. Finally, about midway through ‘Compassion,’ pianist Markowitz began inserting some new motifs into the maelstrom, and from that moment on things improved significantly. After an extended segue, featuring Lovano on flute and Liebman on wood flute with Ravi Coltrane moaning softly on tenor, ‘Compassion’ gave way to ‘India,’ which itself evolved into an almost entirely new composition, with fresh harmonic and melodic conceits adding both color and texture to the sometimes-monotonous modal drone of the original. With ‘Seraphic Light,’ conventional scalar and chordal concepts were again abandoned in favor of no-holds-barred eruptions into new forms and new space. Yet through it all, the overall sound remained crisp and uplifting, even soothing’“which may ultimately be Coltrane’s most profound and challenging musical lesson: attaining harmony through dissonance.

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