Branford Marsalis — Coltrane’s A Love Supreme (2004)

Branford’s got balls. You really have to hand it to a guy that will take on the most-loved and respected example of his craft, in this case John Coltrane’s epic A Love Supreme suite—not once, not twice, but tackles it a third time—until he feels that he’s got it right.

His first tentative reading was released as a bonus disc on 1994’s AIDS benefit compilation Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool, an attempt I think he would rather forget as evidenced by its non-inclusion on his official discography.

This time Marsalis has some heavyweight cred in his corner. Coltrane’s widow and late-period bandmate Alice shows up on the extras to graciously bless the proceedings and provide some inner circle insights on John’s composition.

Recorded live in an Amsterdam jazz club, the quartet has finally gotten over being too reverential toward the material, a deadly habit when it comes to jazz, but a trap many of Marsalis’s fellow “young lions” struggled with early on. With the first tenor intro of Acknowledgement, Branford claims this performance as his own.

With Marsalis setting the pace, the rest of the group seems freed up from sticking too close to the script. Drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts drives the piece as relentlessly as Elvin Jones without the overplaying he has been accused of in the past.

Pianist Joey Calderazzo’s solo on Resolution is a thing of beauty, using McCoy Tyner’s style as a touchstone while incorporating other influences such as Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett.

The bass is such an important and deceptively simple sounding part of A Love Supreme. Eric Revis anchors the quartet’s more ecstatic flights while stepping out with a solo in the third movement that honors Jimmy Garrison’s work without merely reproducing it.

Someone who really understands how to capture a musical performance by a small group filmed the DVD. There isn’t a single instance of “why are we looking at him?” Well done all around.

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