Monday, October 5, 2009

Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra: A Love Supreme (2004)

This, as Pigpen once said, is gonna suck real good.

A big band version of A Love Supreme? You've got to be kidding, sez I.

And parts are just as bad as you'd expect. The "Psalm" section is glitzy, pretty, Sunday-best-suit religious rather than earnest, raw, mountaintop-sweaty spiritual as it should be. Elsewhere there are sections where Coltrane's gorgeous probing melodies are rendered with all the sensitivity of muzak.

But for every tin-eared passage there's one that, unexpectedly, works. They respect the polyrhythms, they do the best they can to translate Coltrane's sheets of sound into sheets of sounds, plural, and every once in a while they really make you sit up and take notice. Like at the end of the "Acknowledgement" section. This is where Coltrane and co. start chanting, sounding frankly pretty sick. Marsalis and co. render this as a conversation between every horn and woodwind in the band, each repeating the "a love supreme" melodic figure in a different register and voice, with the clarinet playing this weird, quasi-Eastern sounding improv behind it. At first it sounds silly, then it sounds fun, then it sounds just plain brilliant.

I've said it before: I like ambitious failures better than safe successes, usually. Inevitably, I like this. I commend it. This is the kind of stuff the LCJO should be trying on record.

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