In HIS final decade from 1957, John Coltrane’s music and serious artistic purpose exerted an overwhelming influence that still resonates powerfully today, and not only on saxophone players.
Revisiting Coltrane - Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
Tommy Smith, the director of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, and their guest soloist, Courtney Pine, are the two most influential British jazz musicians of the past three decades, and both are avowed Coltrane acolytes. The scene seemed set for what should have been a truly memorable occasion, but – for this listener at least – it did not quite work out that way.
The SNJO first performed a Coltrane programme in 2007 (without Pine), and drew on arrangements commissioned then, ranging from Christian Jacob’s take on Moment’s Notice through to the late-period Impressions (arranged by Ryan Quigley) and Tommy Smith’s version of The Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost.
The most radical reworking came in Florian Ross’s teasing, oblique take on the canonical Giant Steps, while Rick Taylor’s more orthodox interpretation of Afro-Blue caught the tune’s exotic exuberance in joyous fashion.
Pino Iodice’s Satellite included a transcription of Coltrane’s own solo for the saxophone section, and each set featured a ballad, Naima and Dear Lord, the latter prefaced by a lovely piano introduction from Steve Hamilton.
A roistering Impressions opened the show, and two sections from A Love Supreme completed the set-list. All unimpeachable material, so where did the disappointment lie?
In the first instance, with Courtney Pine. Not for the first time, I found the saxophonist a frustrating mixture of brilliance and indulgence. His overlong solos constantly veered from powerful inspiration to repetitious redundancy, but never really captured the intensity or focus essential to Coltrane’s music.
He was heavily featured on everything, but was not the only soloist. Smith shone at both ends of the concert, Konrad Wiszniewski made his own powerful tenor statement, and Paul Towndrow impressed on alto in his arrangement of Resolution. Fellow altoist Martin Kershaw was typically incisive and beautifully articulated on Moment’s Notice, and trumpeters Tom Walsh and Tom McNiven both featured. Special kudos go to the rhythm section of Hamilton, bassist Calum Gourlay and drummer Alyn Cosker, the heroes of a long and demanding evening.
Fundamentally, though, the concert confirmed my feeling that something crucial is lost when Coltrane’s elemental music is cloaked in the sonic world of orthodox big band instrumentation, however well performed.