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Review: Jazz: John Coltrane's A Love Supreme Re-envisioned Meltdown festival, London 24/40

June 24, 2014

John Fordham

John Coltrane's 1964 classic album A Love Supreme featured - in the accompanying notes - the composer's long devotional poem to his deity, but was not performed by Coltrane on the recording. Unaccountably, this remarkable Meltdown festival closing gig - a contemporary reimagining of Coltrane's album - featured Coltrane's 15-minute religious homily recited by vocalist Cleveland Watkiss, yet with no textual or spoken explanation as to what it was, many listeners were left feeling that they'd been trapped in a church service they hadn't realised they'd been invited to.

The lengthily zealous finale almost capsized the event, but imaginative flautist/composer Rowland Sutherland's A Love Supreme Re-envisioned otherwise unleashed some of the year's most searingly exciting live jazz. Invoking Coltrane's global soundworld, Byron Wallen opened with the elephantine roar of a Tibetan horn, while flutes, harp, reeds, and xylosynth took the music from softly breathy conversations through swing, funk and tributes to Sun Ra as well as Coltrane.

In the second half, the 15-piece multicultural Enlightenment Ensemble raced through vocal chants over chiming Indian percussion, graceful kora melodies from Tunde Jegede, ferocious grooving from percussionist Mark Mondesir and two blistering Steve Williamson tenor-sax solos of tightly clustered, Coltranesque bursts, hollering long notes, and squealing climaxes.

On a jazzier, less solemn account of the original Resolution theme, bass clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings - hopping ecstatically from foot to foot - played the solo of the night as a torrent of swerving runs, tight phrasing, and dazzling tone-changes. That and Watkiss's warp-speed scat, with Williamson's tenor accompanying pianist Nikki Yeoh's fervent chordwork, were the jubilant precursors to the problematic finale, but they were the joyously spontaneous revelations that most faithfully paid tribute to Coltrane's musical mind and spirit.

John Fordham

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Source: Guardian (UK)

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