Two milestones have been reached in jazz this year. Impulse! Records is celebrating 50 years of churning out records for greats like Ray Charles, Max Roach, Chico Hamilton and many more. To celebrate this event, Impulse! Records and The Jazz Standard in New York City hosted a 4 night event celebrating its 50th year in Jazz. Impulse! also shares this magnificent milestone with one of Jazz’s heralded performers John Coltrane. Coltrane, who also released a number of records on the Impulse! label, would have been 85 years old this year.
Leading off the Impulse Nights series was Ravi Coltrane (saxophone) and Dave Liebman (saxophone and flute) with Phil Markowitz (piano), Cecil McBee (bass) and Billy Hart (drums) performing John Coltrane’s Africa/Brass. The Africa/Brass album by every measurable standard is a classic. The original 3 song release, a jewel among the Impulse! label treasures, represents Coltrane’s first album for the label and a natural way to lead off the 4 day series. For this night at the Jazz Standard the essence of the album was revitalized by two artists, one having a direct lineage to John Coltrane’s legacy (Ravi Coltrane being John Coltrane’s son) while the other witnessed moments of his greatness (Dave Liebman).
Dave Liebman welcomed us for the evening. As the band settled and prepared themselves, a calm came over the standing room only crowd in unison. Liebman and Coltrane started us off with a sumptuous appetizer to what was going to be a delightful full course, leading with their interpretation of “Blues Minor.” The two saxophonists instantly locked in harmoniously. Throughout the song and much of the night, Coltrane and Liebman took turns idolizing each other, utilizing their contrasting styles to accent the songs saxophone segments.
The group took a few seconds to reorganize and slowed the pace down with “Greensleeves” which is a personal favorite of mine. McBee on bass rumbled into their rendition capturing the timeless introspection of the original and added in a few moments of improvised franticness. The piano (Markowitz) took us deeper into the experience, without sacrificing an ounce of the Coltrane version.
The proceeding piece “Song of the Underground Railroad” picked up the pace again led by Billy Hart on drums who thundered his way through a magnificent solo. Smoothly transitioning in was ‘Africa’, with each of the musical elements weaving its way together. This would be the crescendo to a set that flickered candles in the room and vibrated cocktails.
The entirety of this set channeled the spirit and embodiment of Coltrane’s Africa/Brass. Each song captured the height of the ingenious offering that has grown from its original 3 song release, into a timeless collection that still resonates 50 years later.
For more information on the Impulse! 50th Anniversary, check out their website: http://www.impulse50.com/
Words by Abasi Clark