More than forty years after his passing, the timeless and inspiring music of legendary jazz saxophonist John Coltrane continues to garner him loving tributes such as the one pianist Steve Kuhn has assembled on his latest ECM release entitled Mostly Coltrane. The direct link to Coltrane for Kuhn goes back to 1960, when as a young man of only twenty one, he was fortunate enough to work with Trane for approximately eight weeks at the Jazz Gallery in New York City. It was a period of transition for both musicians as the young Kuhn was still searching for his own voice, while Coltrane was in the midst of trying out different musicians as he prepared to step out on his own as a bandleader. Although their parting was mutual, as is often the case when one has been touched by the hand of greatness, the man and his music definitely left a lasting impression on Kuhn.
Accompanied by longtime bassist David Finck, along with drummer Joey Baron and saxophonist Joe Lovano, Kuhn has put together a fitting, balanced tribute that touches on practically every facet of Coltrane's career. He guides the group through versions of songs that he played during his time with the saxophonist, such as "I Want To Talk About You", "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes" and "Central Park West", a lesser known song in the Trane songbook, but one that is also familiar to Lovano who also covered it on his From The Soul album back in 1992.
"Welcome" begins with a brief but sublime piano introduction before Lovano's warm and rich tenor glides effortlessly into the mix, taking the composition into the main theme. He briefly drops out to allow Kuhn to take a short solo, before returning with a crisp and peaceful sounding solo which floats lightly overtop Baron's delicate brush stokes. This track imparts such a peaceful feeling that it subsequently sets the tone for the rest of what's to come. They get inside the music to really invoke the spirit of the master, especially when they interpret some of the more transcendent compositions from Coltrane's back catalogue like "Song Of Praise", "Crescent" and "Spiritual". This sentiment is also maintained on Kuhn's two original compositions, "With Gratitude", which is a solo piano piece, and the album's final song "Trance". What's also interesting about Mostly Coltrane is Kuhn's decision to tackle two songs from one of Trane's last sessions before his death in 1967. "Configuration" and "Jimmy's Mode" represent the final stage of his career, which at the time saw him pushing the sonic envelope even further into the realm of the dissonant avant-garde. That being said, out of the two original compositions "Configuration" was more of a barnburner. Although not as intense as the original, this version does allow Lovano to turn it up a notch.
Mostly Coltrane is an absolute gem from beginning to end, and although I've heard plenty of versions of Trane's music over the years, I can honestly say few compare to what's offered here. Steve Kuhn definitely selected the right musicians ( especially with regards to Lovano) to respectfully interpret this music, because the obvious chemistry that exists between these seasoned players definitely produced some truly magical results. Even after repeated listens the music takes you to a different place each time. I can't help but think that somewhere up there amongst the stars the master must be smiling.
2) Song Of Praise
4) I Want To Talk About You
5) The Night Has A Thousand Eyes
6) Living Space
7) Central Park West
8) Like Sonny
9) With Gratitude
11) Jimmy's Mode