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Seraphic Light by Saxophone Summit

In Seraphic Light three great musicians, Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman and Ravi Coltrane get together as Saxophone Summit to further the legacy of the great jazz innovator John Coltrane. The CD celebrates Coltrane’s music composed and played by him during his last two years before his untimely death at 41 in 1967.

As well, tenor sax player Michael Brecker, who died young last year, is comemorated. Brecker was a Coltrane disciple, and, with fellow reed players Lovano and Liebman, formed Saxophone Summit in 1998 to celebrate Coltrane’s later more spiritual, free form period. The all-star group recorded its first CD in 2004, the well-received Saxophone Summit: Gathering of Spirits.

After Brecker died, the group recently re-assembled and chose Ravi Coltrane, the great man's son, a rising tenor star himself. The horn men are joined here by an esteemed rhythm section, pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart. For ths recording session. Trumpeter Randy Brecker, Michael’s brother, was invited in on two tracks.

The CD is divided in two sections. The first seven tracks, about five minutes each, consist of compositions by the individual players, each in a Coltrane vein. The last three numbers feature extended versions of Coltrane compositions from his last two years, stunningly arranged by Liebman.

Liebman says the album is not "user friendly," structured as it is without regular time, changes and harmonics. However, that says nothing about the quality of the music. It is well worth taking the time to listen, definitely reaching toward the transcendence Coltrane was seeking.

Adding intriguing elements, the front line players use a variety of reed instruments, tenor and soprano saxes, flutes, alto clarinet, and, especially effective, Lovano’s aulochrome double soprano sax-all in the service of dazzling sound.

Of the group originals, Markowitz’s "Transitions" is characterized by a catchy riff, proceeded by a tasty Ravi Coltrane solo. Lovano’s "Daily Bread" displays the composer’s lyric tenor, supported by Liebman’s lilting flute weaving in and out in the background.

In the latter three extended numbers, there is no doubt in "Cosmos" Coltrane was reaching for the stars. Soloist are not listed, but the track starts quietly with an emotionally intense sax improvisation, framed by Markowicz’ cascading piano background. Following, the three saxes blend atonally to project a repetitively pleading wail.

"Seraphic Light" starts with plaintively subdued horns, playing back and forth, answering each other in turn, suggesting confusion in a quest for illumination. Listen for how majestically Markowitz on piano comes in to close, bringing seeming disarray under control, ending with a galloping solo by drummer Hart.

"Expression" closes the slate on a transcendent level. The dense layered sax blend creates atonal chaos, later counseled by Brecker’s frantically preaching trumpet. Boundaries are pushed, aided and abetted by the rampaging rhythm section. This closes the service on a high note at the church of John Coltrane.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Saxophone Summit
  • CD Title: Seraphic Light
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Record Label: Telarc Records
  • Tracks: Transitions, The Thirteenth Floor, Reneda, All About You, Message to Mike, Alpha and Omega, Our Daily Bread, Cosmos, Seraphic Light, Expression
  • Musicians: Ravi Coltrane (tenor saxophone,soprano saxophone) Dave Liebman (soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, C flute, wooden flute) Joe Lovano (tenor saxophone, alto clarinet, Scottish flute, aulochrome) Randy Brecker (trumpet) Phil Markowitz (piano) Cecil McBee (bass) Billy Hart (drums)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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