Gerry Gibbs & Ravi Coltrane: Impressions

If you are wondering how Gerry Gibbs and Ravi Coltrane came together on Gibbs' 1996 debut album, The Thrasher, it just happens that Gerry's father, vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, introduced John Coltrane to his wife-to-be Alice McLeod. Their son, Ravi, and Gerry became close friends and Ravi was a member of the drummer's working quartet at the time of this recording, after having spent three years with the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine earlier in the '90's. As can be heard here on Gibbs' fresh arrangement of John Coltrane's "Impressions," even early on in his career Ravi sounded very little like his father, who died when he was only two.

Uri Caine's sprightly piano intro sets the stage for Coltrane's playing of Gibbs' totally reworked--both harmonically and rhythmically--version of the "Impressions" theme, with violinist Mark Feldman joining the saxophonist on the replay. This is followed by a swaying montuno from Caine and vibist Joe Locke and a prickly vamp by Feldman (pizzicato) and Locke, just prior to Coltrane's tenor solo. Suspended time sections serve as launching pads for Ravi's convoluted, logically conceived, and unyieldingly inventive phrasings and runs. Caine's improv is buoyantly zestful and rhythmically diverse. Gibbs' well-executed, aggressively delivered drum solo is bolstered by the same vamp and montuno heard previously. The concluding well-written parts for the sextet as a whole seal the deal on one the most provocative and unique treatments of "Impressions" ever recorded.

September 15, 2009 · 0 comments


Jaki Byard: Giant Steps

I love this arrangement of “Giant Steps.” The pace is nice and easy. The thing to listen to is how Jaki animates his phrases with very quick crescendos and decrescendos. Also his ease with jumping into some very big block chords. Then in the last 30 seconds of the performance, he goes into double time, and his fingers are just flying through the melody. It's ridiculous. He taught me an arrangement of “Giant Steps” that is in 3/4, and extremely difficult, equivalent to a Brahms piano exercise.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments


Steve Kuhn: Like Sonny

In one of those rare, once-in-a-lifetime convergences, pianist Steve Kuhn got a call to play with John Coltrane for a gig at the Jazz Gallery in New York City in 1960. Kuhn had been playing with trumpeter Kenny Dorham and was well on his way to establishing himself as a player with a unique voice. The ever-searching Trane was still formulating the next stage of his musical development. The collaboration only lasted for three months but it made an indelible mark on the twenty-one year old Kuhn. Coltrane’s dedication to his music influenced the young pianist, not so much by altering his developing style, but by strengthening his resolve toward following his own path. With this tribute album, Kuhn has carefully chosen songs that demonstrate where he and Coltrane have some common ground.

On “Like Sonny”, a Coltrane composition dedicated to Sonny Rollins, Kuhn has followed his natural instincts to use a memorable melody as a vehicle for improvisation. Kuhn’s technique is burnished with classical undertones that bring an elegance and grace to his playing. Kuhn creates a sound that utilizes the full range of the keyboard, bespeaks of a mastery of touch and evokes a haunting beauty that is never self-indulgent.

Bassist and long-time collaborator David Finck has developed a truly intuitive language with Kuhn. Baron’s deft polytonal touch is reminiscent of Elvin Jones but more delicate and spidery than his predecessor. Lovano’s controlled cool delivery is appropriately more deferential to Rollins than to Coltrane and has a beautiful rich tonal quality that is very compatible with Kuhn’s own natural lyricism on this song. Together this quartet has created a worthy homage to the Kuhn-Coltrane experience.

July 22, 2009 · 0 comments


Mark Turner: Moment's Notice

The lone standard on Mark Turner's debut as a leader could not pass through the hands of these young talents and come out unscathed. Unlike Coltrane's original 1957 recording, which features a burnin' swing feel, Turner's 1994 performance is in odd meter, giving it a much more angular bounce than a flowing swing. It is good to see that these musicians, who have since grown even more mature in their playing, are stretching their limits by playing the standard in odd meter, and although it seems at times as if the soloist might lose his place, the wonderful Ballard/Grenadier rhythm duo keeps the train on track. This rendition of "Moment's Notice," while at times hard to follow, is an essential track for any listener seeking recordings of standards performed by modern players.

February 11, 2009 · 0 comments


Nels Cline & Gregg Bendian: Venus

Some folks might think it takes a lot of guts to brave the mountain that is Coltrane's Interstellar Space. Maybe so. Perhaps even more ballsy is the idea that an electric guitar might be a suitable replacement for Trane's wall-of-sound horn. You may detect in these statements a whiff of hyperbole, but remember that Coltrane's album really drew a line in the sand with his followers, the idea being that perhaps the great Trane had gone completely off track and was just tossing incomprehensible statements to the wind.

As it turns out, Coltrane and Rashied Ali knew exactly what they were doing ... and so do Nels Cline and Gregg Bendian. With "Venus," they catch one of the few pensive Interstellar segments. Even though both players remain in constant and edgy motion (particularly Bendian), the melodies sketched out early have a searching quality that becomes increasingly anxious and fiery as momentum builds. Just when you're certain that an explosion is imminent, Cline dials it back to mere fragments and Bendian takes over the heavy lifting, doing some amazing things with just cymbals and snare. This take on Trane's latter-career classic might lean more heavily on the space (as in spacey), but it certainly remains true to Coltrane's spirit.

December 18, 2008 · 0 comments


Hadrien Feraud: Giant Steps

The instrument credits alone should give you a clear indication that this is not going to sound anything like your father's "Giant Steps."  Rising star French jazz bassist Hadrien Feraud is our captain for this futuristic space ride. This version of Coltrane's classic is put forth by two bassists. Feraud and Linley Marthe play the lead and the famous changes with the skill required of such a challenging composition. Soon their voices become barely audible in a cacophony of voice and music samples, sound effects, noises and various and sundry curiosities. I heard Elvis twice.

I have two ways to describe what hearing this music is like. Pick your favorite:

  1)  Late at night listen to the radio. Find "Giant Steps" being played. This may be difficult because there
       are hardly any jazz stations left. But should you succeed, turn the station dial back and forth really fast
       so that you can hear bits of the song and 20 other stations all at the same time.

  2)  Buy a small radio receiver. Commandeer a spaceship. Fly as far away as you can. Turn on the radio
       and try to pick up all of the radio and TV signals that have ever left earth and continue to exist forever
       in deep space. Say "Hi" to Carl Sagan.

You know what they say about the future, don't you? It is now.

May 20, 2008 · 1 comment


Adrien Moignard: Impressions

Those unfamiliar with Django Reinhardt, "jazz Manouche" and its growing legion of Hot Club swing revivalists may want to play a little catch-up. The Django jazz movement has caught fire across the globe, with fans flocking to clubs, concert venues and Django festivals for their Gypsy jazz fix. Far from being a preservationist movement, the music is evolving with the times, as evidenced by the Selmer 607 project.

Five of the genre's top guitarists were chosen to record three tunes apiece on a 1946 Selmer petite bouche acoustic, model #607 (of the same linage as Selmer #503, Django's favorite guitar). Backed by the standard la pompe rhythm section of bass and two guitars, the five soloists ply their muscular chops over a range of material from traditional Django tunes to more contemporary modal jazz. Reactions to these sessions have run the gamut from whoops of astonishment to the deafening silence of amazement.

Adrien Moignard, a relatively unknown young French guitarist, clearly demonstrates what the powerful Gypsy technique can bring to a contemporary jazz jam staple, Coltrane's "Impressions." After a 4-bar rhythm intro, Adrien lays down the familiar head over the rhythm section's solid pompe before launching into a take-no-prisoners solo educing the fabled instrument's characteristic crunch and bark. With tantalizing sweeps, blistering chromatic runs and signature Gypsy enclosures, his ideas sound fresh, substantive and inspired. This kid ain't phoning it in.

May 11, 2008 · 4 comments


Joey DeFrancesco: Impressions

To celebrate the reopening of Manhattan's 5 Spot nightclub, Joey DeFrancesco's band featured an alternating all-star tenor sax lineup to showcase that instrument's great tradition in Hammond B-3 organ ensembles. On "Impressions," the B-3 maven was joined by tenorman Kirk Whalum. (On other tracks, Illinois Jacquet, Grover Washington Jr., and Houston Person appear.) Whalum starts right out of the gate with some fine blowing on this straight-ahead swinging number, more than justifying DeFrancesco's concept for this live recording.

DeFrancesco, playing basslines, and drummer Landham make a fantastic rhythm section. Guitarist Bollenback handles the speedy changes with style and aplomb. And of course DeFrancesco, the most renowned B-3 organ master of the day, does his thing. The band cleverly avoids clichés and plays the familiar melody only at the very last minute. These are pros at work. Their version of "Impressions" leaves a good one.

April 17, 2008 · 0 comments


Dave Liebman: India

Every modern jazz saxophonist owes something to John Coltrane whether he or she sounds like Trane or not. Liebman can really sound like him, though, especially when interpreting Trane's music. Liebman doesn't purposefully mimic lines or solos. It is more about the musical thought process. On "India," he plays the way he thinks Coltrane might have approached the tune had Trane still been around in 1987. Imagine John Coltrane surrounded by electric basses and synthesizers. If you are able to do that, you'll dig Liebman's take on "India."

April 17, 2008 · 0 comments


Mark Egan: After The Rain

Mark Egan first made his mark in the Pat Metheny Group. Since then he has founded, along with drummer Danny Gottlieb, the underrated jazz-fusion group Elements and released many albums of his own. He has also enjoyed a successful career in television music. Jazz fan Bill Cosby once named Egan as his favorite bass player.

Egan is a very lyrical bassist, known for his work on the fretless electric. His basslines tend to be powerful, while his melody and solos consist of long sustained notes that are nuanced to the nth degree. He seems to effortlessly bend those thick bass strings.

Don Alias's percussive sheets help make the perfect bed for Egan's sustained and somber exposition to lie upon. The opening strains are solemn and slowly drawn out. Egan's bass doesn't sound like Coltrane's horn, but his melodic approach to the master's composition sure evokes Coltrane's memory. At least, it does for the tune's head. The body of the piece is something totally different. It becomes samba-like. This solemn tune now takes on a light and relaxed feel. Egan plays soothing lines. The character of the piece changes again as the gifted and underappreciated Steve Khan adds some blues before the band descends back into the beautiful languidness of the opening theme. It is remarkable how fine musicians can change our perception of a tune no matter how indelible we thought it may have been.

April 08, 2008 · 0 comments


Russ Nolan: Naima

When I see a Coltrane cover on a self-produced CD, I usually want to run and hide. I would rather listen to the Nicholas Slonimsky thesaurus of scales played on kazoo. At least that would be a change. But wait, these guys can play, and they don't just imitate old Impulse records. Kenny Werner and cohorts mesh brilliantly in the rhythm section, achieving a light swinging sound that serves as an effective underpinning to Nolan's fluid sax work. No copycats here, just smart playing by a top-notch quartet.

April 03, 2008 · 0 comments


Toots Thielemans: Naima

Chromatic harmonica master Jean "Toots" Thielemans assembled a remarkable group of fellow musicians from both U.S. coasts to make this appealing album. In this East Coast-based lineup, onetime Pat Metheny keyboardist Lyle Mays starts John Coltrane's beautiful ode to his first wife, "Naima." Mays's feather-light touch is especially effective on his sensitive acoustic piano intro, accompanied by Christian McBride's tasteful arco bass. Toots's remarkable instrumental facility again demonstrates his ability to raise the chromatic harmonica to equality among other, more accepted jazz instruments. The sense of poignancy that he can summon is unsurpassed. Some tasteful electric guitar licks from John Scofield propel this classic tune into a more contemporary sound without any lack of respect. A nice duet between Redman's tenor and Toots's harmonica completes this marvelous interpretation of the Coltrane classic.

March 14, 2008 · 0 comments


McCoy Tyner: Giant Steps

Although McCoy Tyner wasn't around for the original recording of "Giant Steps," he must have played it hundreds of times with Coltrane while in John's quartet. Some 30 years later, Tyner recorded this abridged version in tribute. Over the years, "Giant Steps" has become almost the de facto rite of passage for every young jazz musician. If you can improvise over those fast and complicated changes, you have earned your jazz bona fides! In a strange way, you sort of get the same feeling from Tyner on this cut. Perhaps he was seeking the role of teacher by indicating how it should be done, giving us a truncated "Giant Steps" that focuses on the very dynamics of the changes themselves. His block-chord playing is full, fast and impressive as can be. His single-note runs over the bass changes are nothing short of brilliant. He is a true master, encapsulating all in scarcely two minutes. Our rating, however, is 10 points lower due to what appears to be an egregious edit at the 18 sec. mark. McCoy is great enough that such an edit was an unnecessary intrusion, and it reflects poorly on those who for whatever reason made the decision.

February 20, 2008 · 1 comment


Carlos Santana & Mahavishnu John McLaughlin: A Love Supreme

Carlos Santana, a fellow Coltrane admirer, joined John McLaughlin on Love, Devotion, Surrender for "A Love Supreme." Wailing electric guitars and agitated calls and responses punctuate a truly transcendent version. Whether you believe in the organic nature of a divine music or not, you cannot help but be carried away to some distant place upon the chanting refrains from this performance. It is an homage played with the fervor of true believers in a message and a man.

January 26, 2008 · 0 comments


Carlos Santana & Mahavishnu John McLaughlin: Naima

This lovely John Coltrane piece has been interpreted innumerable times. It is very difficult to come close to the brilliance of the original. The two attempts that come closest are both provided by string players. Mandolinist David Grisman's versions from several of his albums are highly recommended. I also favor McLaughlin's first recording of the piece which appeared on Love, Devotion, Surrender. McLaughlin was joined by rock guitar superstar Carlos Santana for this recording. Carlos was a rabid fan of McLaughlin and had started to dig what John's spiritual guru, the late Sri Chinmoy, was saying in those days. Whether you believe in gurus or not, there is no doubt the two players themselves were immersed in a spiritual vortex that saw Coltrane, Chinmoy and music itself at its very center. This performance is a devotional prayer without words. McLaughlin is the stronger player and the guide, but the interplay between the two is revelatory. (McLaughlin later also covered the tune on his Coltrane tribute album After The Rain.)

January 26, 2008 · 0 comments


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