A Love Supreme

Okay, not to gush, but … (respectfully) … damn. The Alice Coltrane show was more than anyone could have asked for. Please tell me that someone at SFJazz tapes those things!

Alice was incredibly gracious. Her playing on the grand piano was crystalline. Her work on the electronic keyboard gave Zawinul a “run” for his money (sorry for the pun). I’m glad that I had been listening to a lot of Weather Report lately and had gained an appreciation for how those sounds I’ve always equated with “smooth jazz” could be used to advance complex ideas.

Coltrane’s playing on her signature Wurlitzer organ was incendiary. She used the pitch shifter to invoke Indian-sounding microtonal bends, which coupled with, what to my ear sounded like Cecil Taylor-influenced explorations of chord structures … wow.

The quartet ended the main program with Leo, a late-period John Coltrane piece. Watching Alice run the arpeggios out on the keyboard made it easier to grasp how John had been turning chords inside out and looking at them from all sides. After that relentless workout, the combo got a standing ovation and the house started filing out as they left the stage. Dana turned to me and said “They can’t be expected to do an encore after that. They must be exhausted!”

They did. About a fifth of the audience was gone, and since we were in the balcony, we were just chilling rather than join the cattle drive streaming out through the exits. The musicians quietly returned to the stage and Coltrane scion Ravi hit A Love Supreme’s familiar clarion call—effectively stunning the remaining crowd. There was an explosion of recognition that almost immediately collapsed in on itself, as no one wanted to miss a note. Alice started out on grand piano, lending more of a classical feel to original pianist McCoy’s Tyner’s big block chording.

Charlie Haden’s bass solo was fantastic, taking that four note phrase and turning it inside out and expanding the melody line until, in a reversal of the bop revolution, it became a Rodgers & Hammerstein tune.

Roy Haynes played like a man a third of his age (81!). His enthusiasm and sense of fun kept the whole show from drifting too far into the reverential and really kept the music vital and alive. Did I mention that he can swing? At one point even quiet, reserved Haden let out a “yeah!” at his ability to snap the whole thing into focus with a deftly timed snare crack.

And Ravi … I have to give it up. He’s got the genes and the guts. And the heart. As A Love Supreme shifted into the final movement, Alice moved back to the organ and finished Ravi’s tenor sax lines, so that the two were locked into a musical conversation that was positively telepathic and transcended a respect for the music to illustrate, in sound, the bond between mother and son.

So, yea, it was okay.

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