Tag Archives: john coltrane

MTH-V: Joe Lovano/Steve Kuhn Quartet

One of my desert island discs is 2009’s Mostly Coltrane by the Steve Kuhn trio with Joe Lovano. I got it at the end of 2010 and was instantly swept away. (Another ECM gem. I better start watching myself, or this will become an exclusively ECM-centric blog…not that there’s anything wrong with that…)

The album/band provides an compelling mix of in and out Trane-inspired material: “I Want to Talk About You,” “Crescent,” “Central Park West,” “Living Space,” and more. Pianist Steve Kuhn, who briefly performed with Coltrane in 1960, and bassist David Finck ground the ensemble in more accessible territory, while saxophonist Joe Lovano and drummer Joey Baron, whose playing I’ve since become quite taken with, aim for more exploratory realms. The album features beautiful balladry, aggressive late-Trane attitude, and everything in between – all wrapped up in ECM’s superb production quality.

The below clips come from the group’s performance at JazzBaltica 2008. Included are three tunes that, in my opinion, best represent the ensemble. Everyone gets some solo space, and the musicians cover a lot of musical and emotional ground. The first clip features the meditative “Jimmy’s Mode” and “Spiritual,” the latter of which is one of my favorite two tunes on the album. The second video is of a burning “Impressions.” (How could it not be played? Jazz festival + Coltrane tribute + saxophonist = “Impressions”) The rest of the concert is also available on YouTube if you’re so inclined.

“Jimmy’s Mode” -> “Spiritual”


MTH-V: Eric Dolphy w. Trane

I’ve been focused on my doubles – flute, clarinet, and piccolo – recently, as I’m performing in an upcoming production of Annie. Even though flute’s my primary double instrument, I’ve been playing it more than usual for this gig. And as a result, I’ve had notable doublers on my mind, one of jazz’s greatest being Eric Dolphy.

Dolphy was one of jazz’s great all-around woodwind masters. Most remembered as an alto saxophonist, he was also a landmark bass clarinetist (the first to really establish it as a jazz instrument) and flautist. It’s not only that he was tremendously skilled, but that he conveyed an original, idiosyncratic voice through each instrument. And while he was a respected bandleader in his own right, his associations with Charles Mingus and John Coltrane – two of contemporary music’s forefathers – were historic. (And speaking of being a sideman, he steals the show on Oliver Nelson‘s The Blues and the Abstract Truth.)

Like many, I was introduced to Dolphy through Trane. Even with holding Trane’s entire legacy on a pedestal, his later work – the sixties in general, but especially ’64-’67 – is my primary wheelhouse. When I first bought The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings box set, I remember being taken aback by Eric Dolphy’s ubiquitous presence and coming to really enjoy the contrast between the two frontmen. (It really sets the stage for Coltrane’s late quintet with Pharoah Sanders.)

This video of Trane’s almost-Classic Quartet (Steve Davis is on bass), augmented by Dolphy, features a 1961 German television performance of “My Favorite Things.” While it’s still steeped in the flavor of the famous studio recording – unlike late renditions – it’s definitely further out. When it comes to this level of artistry, all I can say is to sit back and enjoy…

[In case you’re interested, a performance of “Impressions” from this same TV appearance, with Dolphy on alto sax, is available on iTunes. It’s quite nice.]




A few weeks ago I finally picked up Radiohead’s quickly-(in)famous King of Limbs. I’d been wanting to give it a listen since its initial (surprise) digital release. (However, being a stickler for always wanting a hard copy, I opted to patiently wait until the physical release.) My primary interest stemmed from my being a longtime fan. Another part of me, though, wanted to see what all the hubbub was about – Facebook and the Twitterverse were blowing up with very mixed reviews. Most critics lauded the effort, with fans going in many directions. Friends and colleagues were in quite the tizzy. Six weeks later I finally got my chance – I love it! I gave it two careful listens that first day, and a number of others since, and my fondness has only increased.

But this isn’t a “New Listen” review…

I’m continually amazed by fans’ feeling betrayed by an artist’s (in this case, band’s) natural evolution. (Yes, I’m certainly aware that everyone can’t be a total fan of everything, but this concerns active fans.) Of course, an artist can unexpectedly change course – for reasons personal, commercial, or otherwise – and cause an uproar, the response to which could be perfectly understandable. However, often times, when discussing those heavies with long careers and extended catalogues, change is almost always inevitable. In fact, my personal Top 5 – TOOL, Dave Matthews Band, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Smashing Pumpkins – is united by their collective tendency to evolve over time. Some had smoother transitions than others – TOOL and Trane are/were smoother overall than Miles – but each one’s arc can be heard as one sonic narrative, with each new phase or “sound” including both an element of the “core” sound and an aspect of picking up where they last left off (even if it’s somewhat of a reaction to a previous approach).

Like the aforementioned Top 5, Radiohead also continually evolves. Succinctly describing their most recent release, I would say: King of Limbs is Radiohead’s next logical step after In Rainbows. Now, that doesn’t really mean anything to the passive fan, but those familiar with the whole Radiohead catalogue should understand that this denotes: more effects and electronics, less traditional instrumentation and form, more experimentation. Radiohead started with a definitive early-90s anthem (“Creep”), pivoted with a slightly more progressive but wildly commercially successful album (OK Computer), then forcefully proceeded down the avenue of electronic experimentation (Kid A through present). I could understand someone enjoying OK Computer in somewhat of a vacuum and being dumbfounded by King or even Amnesiac (these two are probably my favorites, FYI). But, if you were to listen to all of their albums in succession, you would most likely hear a single band slowly transforming.

A primary grievance is that the new album is too down-tempo. Did anyone really expect an anthemic rocker after the last few albums? Seriously? Many await another OK Computer. I can understand that to a certain extent, however that was their third album. King of Limbs is their EIGHTH studio album. They’re far beyond that stage, for good or ill. For those who felt betrayed, the “betrayal” occurred not in 2011, but rather gradually over the last decade. Similarly, Miles and Trane continually evolved. Those who expected Coltrane to play “Locomotion” in ’66 or ’67 were gravely mistaken, and likely walked out of performances and stopped buying his albums. He had moved beyond the blues – moved beyond swing – by that point. And was it that he no longer liked “that old stuff”? No. He simply transcended all earlier endeavors and was progressing beyond jazz to something greater. Returning to “Syeeda’s Song Flute” would have been a stifling distraction. The same is happening here.

Art, and the artists who create it, evolve. Just like everything else. You don’t have to like everything an artist does, not by a long shot. However, at the same token, don’t be surprised if, after 5 or 10 or 20 years, they have moved on to a different place.