Ridin’ the Funky Trane

All that Jazz: Nov. 2009

Coltrane breaks during ‘Kind Of Blue’ sessions | Photo: Sony

A raspy voice heard overhead opens the concert. “…the reason I play so many sounds, maybe it sounds angry, is because I’m tryin’ so many things at one time, you see…”

The musicians stand in solemn contemplation as the voice of the late, great John Coltrane tries to enunciate the feeling of his music. Then, the drummer taps a cymbal and a snare, and a bass rumbles. The pianist claws a few keys and a soprano sax cries out. Soon, a tune emerges as the elements meld into Coltrane’s “India”.

The project is entitled “Coltrane Configurations” and its creator is electric bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, on stage at Porgy & Bess on Nov. 13. For those who know the Philadelphia native’s work as a sideman in Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time band, his decidedly funky style would seem challenging to fuse with the cathartic meditations of Coltrane. Instead Tacuma does the opposite: He adds sonic extensions to the elements of Coltrane’s quartet.

By that March 1960 interview in Stockholm, John Coltrane had finished Giant Steps, and was admittedly growing tired of Miles Davis’s outfit he was touring around Europe with. Looking to form his own solid quartet, or maybe even a quintet, Coltrane was a half a year away from basically achieving it, choosing pianist McCoy Tyner, and then drummer Elvin Jones. With the addition of Jimmy Garrison on upright bass in early 1962, the quartet would blaze a trail throughout the next four years until Coltrane’s death from liver cancer in 1967.

With songtitles like “Dear Lord”, “Wise One”, “Song of Praise”, and the signature “A Love Supreme”, John Coltrane was undoubtedly on a spiritual trek through his music. Such a search is the basis for Tacuma’s choice as guide through his own personal pilgrimage through music. Tacuma recalls a story told to him by a hip saxophonist claiming that “the Trane” used to read from a book and practice his horn at the same time.

“When I heard this story, I was very impressed that someone of a higher level of consciousness could be so open and receptive to trying out both tasks simultaneously,” Tacuma explains. “John Coltrane is a perfect example of a musician for whom it is not enough to be just a musician.”

Tacuma not only entertains the musical ideas of a great musician like Coltrane, but has gotten to know him through the stories by people who knew him and through getting to know the place where he lived. Born in North Carolina, Coltrane spent the majority of his adult musical years (1952-64) in a West Philadelphia house that is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

It should come as no surprise that most of the song selection hails from the Quartet period, but with an added “configuration,” to borrow Tacuma’s term. “Impressions” is no longer the driving assault of solos, but a funky interplay between Tacuma’s plunky basslines and pianist Yoischi Uzeki’s keyboard groove. The Japanese pianist, who has also resided in the City of Brotherly Love, displays his classically trained ear, and not to mention an innovative way of playing the instrument, in a prelude to Mongo Santamaría’s standard “Afro Blue.” Tacuma whips out a refreshingly uplifting and vibrant side with fret sliding to “Resolution,” the second lamenting movement of the suite A Love Supreme.

With Tony Kofi on alto and soprano sax providing the familiar motif and his own soloing skills, and the British-born Tim Hutson wracking the drumset, the quartet will certainly lay new tracks at the Porgy for the continued journey of the Trane’s musical legacy.

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