by Ian Mann
March 02, 2021
Coltrane Dedication approach their chosen source material very much in the spirit of the man himself, always questing, pushing the boundaries, and performing with great intensity and total conviction.
Coltrane Dedication, Livestream from Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 27/02/2021.
Lyndon Owen – tenor & soprano saxes, Caractacus Downes – tenor & baritone saxes,
John Paul Gard – keyboard, Aidan Thorne – double bass, Iolo Whelan – drums
Brecon Jazz Club’s second livestream ‘club night’ event from their regular venue, The Muse, featured a quintet of local musicians based in the South Wales and Bristol areas.
Coltrane Dedication is co-led by the twin saxophones of Lyndon Owen and Caractacus Downes, both based around Monmouth. These two are the only constants in a pool of musicians that has included bassists Ashley John Long, Dominic Lash, Aidan Thorne, Erika Lyons, Bill Fletcher, Dane Cronenberg and Steve Tarner, pianists Dave Jones, Paul Jones, John Paul Gard, Mark Latimer, Mike Collins and Lynn Thomas and drummers Ian Poole, Iolo Whelan, Mark O’Connor, Greg Evans and Bob Duck.
The Collective was founded on July 17th 2007, when a quintet of musicians who had been booked for a jam session realised that the date coincided with the fortieth anniversary of Coltrane’s death and decided to dedicate the whole of that night’s programme to improvising around his compositions.
Coltrane Dedication specialise in the music of Coltrane’s ‘later period’, from 1960 to 1967, an era that takes in such landmark Coltrane albums as “Giant Steps”, “Olé”, “Ascension” and, of course, “A Love Supreme”.
I have been fortunate enough to see Coltrane Dedication perform on a number of occasions over the years, usually at the Queen’s Head in Monmouth. Owen and Downes have been constants but there has been degree of variation in the other chairs, resulting in subtle changes of emphasis within the music. No two Coltrane Dedication gigs are exactly the same, hence the appeal and fascination of repeated viewings, particularly when allied to the sheer emotive force of the music.
Besides their regular appearances at Monmouth Coltrane Dedication were also something of a fixture at the now sadly defunct Café Jazz in Cardiff and their Festival appearances have included Brecon, Aberjazz in Fishguard and the Waterside Jazz Festival around Cardiff Bay.
In 2020 the band released its début album “yn yr Amgueueddfa – at the Museum”, which was recorded at a live gig (remember those!) at Ceredigion Museum in Aberystwyth in September 2019. The Museum is housed in a converted Edwardian theatre and retains its Music Hall, which is still perfectly conducive to live performances, particularly by jazz and folk acts.
My review of “yn yr Amgueueddfa – at the Museum”, from which much of the above content has been sourced, can be read in full here;
The live album features the quintet that seemed to have solidified into the ‘definitive’ Coltrane Dedication line up in recent years with Owen and Downes joined by pianist Dave Jones, bassist Ashley John Long and drummer Ian Poole.
For tonight’s event the co-leaders decided to ring the changes and introduced a whole new rhythm section featuring John Paul Gard on keyboard, Aidan Thorne on bass and Iolo Whelan, all of whom had played with the group before as members of the pool, or ‘Collective’.
This same line up had originally been scheduled to perform at The Muse on 13th February, the event having to be postponed for two weeks due to the heavy snow that fell in the South Wales area over the Valentine’s Day weekend.
Fortunately this second attempt went without a hitch and was once again filmed and recorded by Gavin and Emily of Ratio Studios in Merthyr Tydfil. Vialma, a French hosting and streaming company with a specialist interest in jazz, were also involved in hosting tonight’s presentation.
The performance was introduced from their home by Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon of Brecon Jazz who thanked both Ratio and Vialma, in addition to the many volunteers who have helped to make Brecon Jazz Club and Brecon Jazz Festival such a success. They also acknowledged the financial support of the Welsh Government, whose cultural support scheme has helped to keep Brecon Jazz going during the Covid crisis and assisted with the funding of these very welcome livestream events.
Over at The Muse Sharon, one of the BJC volunteers, introduced the band, handing over to Lyndon Owen to announce the first piece. Like his colleagues Owen had dressed for the occasion with the members of the band all appropriately ‘suited and booted’ for this rare televisual appearance.
Owen explained that the quintet use Coltrane’s compositions to “launch our own way, finding our own path through these great and simple masterpieces, where we end up is anybody’s guess”.
Coltrane’s modally based compositions, with their strong and emotive themes, are a gift for improvisers and Coltrane Dedication approach their chosen source material very much in the spirit of the man himself, always questing, pushing the boundaries, and performing with great intensity and total conviction. They describe their music as “Celebrating the legacy of John Coltrane” and they clearly recognise the emotional and spiritual power of Coltrane’s work and use it as a basis for improvisation, sometimes taking these tunes even further out than Coltrane did himself. On the recent live album the main themes are credited to John Coltrane and the collective improvisations around them to the quintet as a whole, which gives some idea as to the band’s uncompromising approach.
Over the course of its thirteen year existence Coltrane Dedication has amassed a substantial catalogue of material and tonight’s programme included pieces sourced from the album alongside others yet to be documented on disc.
At my previous live sightings of the band they have often chosen to conclude their performances with “Spiritual”, which also closes the album, but here they elected to open with it, thereby setting the tone for the evening. The fanfare like opening featured the combination of Owen on tenor and Downes on baritone, the twin saxes intertwining before opening out to present powerful introductory solos from each, with Owen going first. Downes’ baritone solo included the use of a mute, a device rarely deployed by saxophonists and more commonly associated with trumpeters and trombonists. Gard, more usually heard as an organist, followed at the keyboard, adopting an ‘acoustic piano’ sound for his solo. Next we heard from bassist Thorne, his solo including a brief passage of entirely unaccompanied playing. He then briefly flourished the bow at the close as Coltrane’s theme re-emerged.
Owen switched to soprano for what he described as “a little Spanish thing”. This was, of course, Coltrane’s “Olé”, which was introduced by Thorne at the bass, who ushered in the main theme. Downes meanwhile had switched to tenor and his solo probed deeply before he eventually handed over to Owen. The latter’s incisive use of soprano emphasised the Moorish influence on Spanish music, and on Coltrane himself. Gard’s piano solo introduced a subtle element of distortion that also suggested the influence of Indian music, another acknowledged source of inspiration for Coltrane. We also enjoyed a neatly constructed drum feature from Whelan, a supremely versatile musician who is more regularly heard in the engine room of the Welsh folk-rock ensemble Mabon.
Following this lengthy and exotic excursion the band took a short interval, just like at a ‘real gig’, presumably designed to allow the musicians to recover their breath and for the online audience to recharge their glasses with a quick foray to the drinks cabinet.
The second half commenced with “Brasilia” (sometimes spelt as “Brazilia” with reference to Coltrane) which restored the combination of tenor and baritone and also saw Thorne making highly effective use of the bow on an atmospheric opening section that also featured Whelan’s mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers. Owen took the first solo on tenor, later joined by Downes’ counter melodies on baritone, these eventually leading into a full on baritone solo, with Downes displaying a remarkable fluency and agility on the big horn. Gard’s expansive piano solo brought a more overt blues tinge to the music and we also enjoyed a powerfully plucked bass solo from Thorne, accompanied by the rustle of Whelan’s brushes. Interestingly the album re-titles the piece “Basilica”, possibly a ‘typo’, but perhaps an intentional reference to JC’s spirituality.
After a succession of pieces in waltz time the quintet reverted to 4/4 for “Resolution”, one of Coltrane’s best known pieces and sourced from his most famous album, 1965’s “A Love Supreme”. Coltrane’s familiar motif was given a rousing rendition by the twin tenors of Owen and Downes, initially working in unison before diverging to give expansive individual statements, both combining the qualities of power and fluency. Further solos came from Thorne and Gard prior to a second statement of Coltrane’s famous theme.
The quintet concluded with “Psalm”, a shorter piece that they usually perform as an encore, and which essentially fulfilled that function here. This was a piece that fully emphasised the spiritual and devotional quality of Coltrane’s music in an ensemble performance, the collective intensity of which featured the combination of tenor and baritone saxes, Thorne’s bowed bass, Gard’s piano flourishes and Whelan’s underpinning drum and cymbal work.
Coltrane Dedication’s performance was well received by the small ‘audience’ at The Muse with Lynne and Roger having walked there to support the band and crew. No doubt the online crowd was more substantial, with Roger previously having made the observation that online shows have a far greater outreach than just the local populace. They are undoubtedly here to stay, even after any comparative return to ‘normality’, and in Ratio and Vialma Brecon Jazz have found the perfect ‘media partners’ for such events.
This evening’s event will have helped to bring Coltrane Dedication’s music to a wider audience than usual, which offered some compensation following the cancellation of all the festivals at which they were due to appear in support of the new album in 2020. Tonight was their first ‘gig’ in nearly a year.
“yn yr Amgueueddfa – at the Museum” is available from http://www.coltranededication.co.uk
I’d also point readers in the direction of some of the band members’ other projects.
Eira / Snow is a world jazz duo featuring Owen and Downes playing a variety of instruments. The project was initially inspired by the music of Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek, particularly those classic ECM recordings on which Garbarek fused jazz with various folk and world music elements. Owen and Downes took their band name from the Welsh word for snow, thereby acknowledging both their own roots and that original Scandinavian inspiration.
The duo has been in existence for a number of years now and has extended its sphere of influence to encompass the music of Wales, India, the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East with Owen playing a variety of reed instruments, among them the Hungarian taragato and the Armenian duduk while Downes lays down the groove on double bass, while occasionally doubling up on baritone sax.
Again, Eira / Snow represents a highly engaging live proposition and is another act whose performances I have enjoyed on a number of occasions. With its roots in various folk musics of the world the duo’s music is eminently accessible despite its exoticism and there are some highly memorable tunes included in the Eira / Snow repertoire.
A recording from the Eira / Snow duo is also long overdue, let’s hope that an album from this unit will be next on the agenda for Owen and Downes. More information at http://www.eirasnow.co.uk
Gard leads his own groups, mainly from the organ, and has released a total of seven albums, recorded in a variety of instrumental formats. For further information please visit http://www.johnpaulgard.com
Thorne leads the group Duski, an electro-acoustic quintet that features his compositions and which represents his primary creative outlet. The band has released two excellent albums “Duski” (2016) and “Make A Wish” (2020), the latter released on the American label Ropeadope. Both recordings are reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann website. More information can be found at http://www.duskimusic.com
For information on Iolo Whelan please visit http://www.iolowhelan.com
The Coltrane Dedication performance will remain available to ticket holders until the end of March 2021.
Brecon Jazz Club are currently planning another livestream event. Details to be announced. http://www.breconjazzclub.org
blog comments powered by Disqus