by Ian Mann
August 18, 2020
Coltrane Dedication definitely approach JC’s music in the spirit of the man himself. I recommend their skilled and passionate updating of the Coltrane legacy to adventurous jazz listeners everywhere.
“yn yr Amgueueddfa – at the Museum”
Lyndon Owen – Tenor & Soprano Saxophones, Caractacus Downes – Tenor & Baritone Saxophones, Dave Jones - Piano, Ashley John Long- Double Bass, Ian Poole – Drums
Coltrane Dedication is a quintet featuring some of the leading jazz musicians in South Wales.
Co-led by saxophonists Lyndon Owen and Carctacus Downes it has historically drawn from an extensive pool of musicians which has included bassists Dominic Lash, Aidan Thorne, Erika Lyons Bill Fletcher, Dane Cronenberg and Steve Tarner, pianists Paul Jones, John Paul Gard, Mark Latimer, Mike Collins and Lynn Thomas and drummers 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”.
Coltrane Dedication 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.
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 are also something of a fixture at Café Jazz in Cardiff and their Festival appearances have included Brecon, Aberjazz in Fishguard and the Waterside Jazz Festival around Cardiff Bay.
In recent times the Coltrane Dedication line up appears to have solidified around the quintet that appears on this CD, with Owen and Downes joined by pianist Dave Jones, bassist Ashley John Long and drummer Ian Poole.
The album was recorded at one of the band’s occasional performances at Ceredigion Museum in Aberystwyth. 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.
At the time of writing the Museum is closed due to the Corona Virus crisis but this Coltrane Dedication performance was documented on the 28th September 2019 by recording engineer Sean McGowan. The album packaging features a drawing of Coltrane by guitarist Will Killeen based on “Coltrane at the Guggenheim by William Claxton. This is super-imposed on a photograph of the town of Aberystwyth taken from Constitution Hill.
The album features six well known items from the Coltrane canon with the main themes credited to John Coltrane and the collective improvisations around them to the quintet as a whole. Things get under way with “Mr P.C.”, sourced from the “Giant Steps” album and Coltrane’s dedication to the late, great Paul Chambers (1935-69), the bassist on that record.
The quintet play the familiar theme in unison before stretching out with individual solos. I’m not going to second guess which tenor player is which, but there are two extensive saxophone explorations here before Jones, a bandleader and composer in his own right, takes over at the piano.
He’s followed by Long at the bass, one of the most captivating bass soloists around, and then by Poole with a neatly judged brushed drum feature. An excellent start.
The loosely structured intro to “Basilica” features the sound of Downes on baritone in a series of exchanges with Owen’s tenor. Long briefly flourishes the bow, while Poole adds mallet rumbles and the atmospheric chimes of small cymbals and other percussion. Jones’ piano motif subsequently takes over, shadowed by pizzicato bass and the gentle patter of hand drums. There’s an extended, slowly evolving passage featuring just piano, bass and drums, before Jones and Poole drop out, leaving just the other worldly sounds of Long’s bowed bass as the music enters the realms of the totally improvised. Long is an experienced free jazz player, whose use of technique (he’s also a highly accomplished classical player) and extended technique is genuinely impressive and consistently absorbing.
His melancholic, eerily bowed double bass also forms the segue into “Lonnie’s Lament”, which evolves slowly, with the two tenors eventually picking up the baton again and stating the theme before embarking on lengthy individual solos plus a gently probing series of almost subliminal exchanges as the music enters into wholly improvised territory once more. Unlike the sound and fury of many Coltrane inspired projects the Dedication guys aren’t afraid to take their foot off the gas and are happy to take their time and to explore deeply. For them Coltrane’s music is source of inspiration and a springboard for improvisation. This isn’t ‘Coltrane as repertory’, slavishly copying the original recorded versions with note for note solos.
Long’s pizzicato bass motif ushers in “Olé”, which features Owen on soprano and introduces some of the Middle Eastern and Moorish elements that distinguish his work with Eira / Snow, his ‘world jazz’ (for want of a better term) duo with Downes. More on that later.
Here both Owen and soprano and Downes on tenor dig in deeply, and there’s a dynamic and dramatic call and response saxophone duet mid tune as the rhythm section drop out entirely, with both musicians testing their respective horns to their limits. Piano, bass and drums subsequently return and there is something of a feature for the consistently impressive Poole eventually emerges.
“Acknowledgement”, Part 1 of “A Love Supreme” is one of Coltrane’s most famous compositions, and initially the quintet stick closely to the original, with Long’s rendition of the famous bass motif eventually shaping the direction of the performance. The twin tenors expound around the theme, but soon the Dedication are pulling at the very fabric of the piece as they continue to stretch out collectively, initially led by the saxophones but with a high level of interaction and connectivity throughout. At over fourteen and a half minutes this version is nearly double the length of Coltrane’s original recording and sees the quintet quietly stamping their own identity on the piece.
The album concludes with the quintet’s rendition of another of Coltrane’s best known themes, the consistently stirring “Spiritual”, which has often constituted the closing item on the occasions that I have seen the band. This features the combination of Owen on tenor and Downes on baritone and features an engaging series of exchanges between the pair, plus similarly absorbing individual solos.
Jones, Long and Poole provide sympathetic, modally based support, with the consistently impressive pianist also emerging as a soloist.
John Coltrane’s music has been an inspiration for generations of jazz musicians, with some justifiably attracting criticism for following his style too slavishly. For me, that’s not really a criticism that can be levelled at Coltrane Dedication, who continue to find fresh and interesting ways of delivering Coltrane’s musical message. Their penchant for improvisation channels Coltrane’s own questing spirit, the constant and burning idea of finding new ways to express things. There’s a genuine understanding of the man’s sense of mission, and of the spiritual and emotional power of his music.
As I say, I have witnessed the band in live performance many times in a variety of incarnations but have never tired of their interpretation of the Coltrane legacy. I have to admit to an element of vested interest here, as I have got to know the majority of the musicians on this recording very well over the years and consider them to be personal friends, but even so the standard of the playing throughout “at the Museum” is uniformly high throughout, as it has been at all the other Coltrane Dedication shows that I’ve seen.
I’m normally a little sceptical about these kind of ‘tribute’ recordings, which often seem to be cashing in on the reputation of a giant of the past and sometimes feel like a bit of an easy option. Not so in this case, Coltrane Dedication definitely approach JC’s music in the spirit of the man himself, and do so with a strong sense of commitment. The musicians in the band are well known on the Welsh jazz scene, but the release of this album suggests that its now time for them to enjoy wider UK recognition, and I’m more than happy to recommend their skilled and passionate updating of the Coltrane legacy to adventurous jazz listeners everywhere.
I’d also direct audiences towards Eira / Snow, the 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.
Meanwhile Owen has been busy during lockdown and has produced a highly entertaining, and sometimes humorous, series of videos filmed around Monmouth and its environs and featuring his playing of a wide variety of wind instruments (various species of saxophones, bagpipes and more).
These can be found at his website http://lyndonowen.cymru/ which also provides a link to Coltrane Dedication’s Bandcamp page https://coltranededication.bandcamp.com/album/at-the-museum-yn-yr-amgueddfa
Owen’s website also contains details of his other musical activities, including the various bands that he is involved with, in addition to his work as a promoter and supporter of music in the community.
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