Bobby Zankel: Philadelphia, PA, September 22, 2012
Zankel is also outstanding at making space for his improvisers, giving them something meaningful and stimulating to work with but lots of space and air time to say their piece. In this respect, it was a real coup to get Liebman and Pope to join the group. Each displayed his own signature turn to the Coltrane tradition. Liebman played lean and mean, stiff-arming his way through the brass and reed riffs behind him, exemplifying the musical brilliance for which Coltraneand Liebman, himselfis known. By contrast, Pope was supremely lyrical, using his famed circular breathing to play long and flowing uninterrupted phrases with a beautiful sound that was bright and dark at the same time. Having recently lost his wife, she must have been on Pope's mind on this night, because his playing was especially warm and introspective. Zankel also contributed several solos, and it was remarkable to hear these three unique and seminal players onstage together, and note their similarities and differences.
Floyd is a soprano steeped in gospel, jazz, and classical music, a true artist and creative force in her own right. In the original album, Coltrane played the sound of the Love Supreme poem without words on his horn. Zankel took Trane's improvisation and used it as the basis for a song both spoken and sung by Floyd in the "Psalm Section." This shifted the tenor of the piece from an intense journey of light and darkness to a fervent, heartfelt prayera "blues for God," if you will. It was reminiscent of the ways composer Mahler used soprano voices in his symphoniesout of the wilderness comes a clear, truthful message. When the piece returned to its instrumental focus, it was something more than it was before. Something lived, died and was reborn in Floyd's evocation of Coltrane's poem.
There is no question that this composition and event was a stunning achievement for Zankel and his cohorts. It had beauty and passion, and it manifested the unity within diversity, the "family of man" feeling that characterizes jazz as an art form. It was a powerful musical evocation of something from the heart and from the depths. This happens rarely in jazz or, for that matter, any art form, and is both unforgettable and transformational. But in what sense was it a milestonea breakthrough event? It was groundbreaking because of the way it extended the emotional and spiritual attainments of the compositional tradition of Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, and the precious few others who knew how to give intimate expressiveness to large ensemble jazz.
With this composition, Zankel placed himself among those big guns and, like his friends, saxophonists Steve Coleman and Rudresh Mahanthappa, and othersand like his mentor, Cecil Tayorhe is going deep into those coral reefs in ways that push the limits of contemporary jazz to just where they need to go. In this concert, he let us go there with him, to the human and spiritual core that unites us all.