Friday, October 8, 2010

REINVENTING TRANE

Mr. Coltrane, excuse me for bothering you. Will you grant me a few minutes of your time? I want to discuss “India & Africa a Tribute to John Coltrane”, the latest recording by Anthony Brown’s Asian American Orchestra. Are you familiar with Brown? If not, I’ll share with you bits of his bio. Brown is a jazz drummer. He’s a Californian, and he has a PhD in ethnomusicology from UC Berkeley. He’s collaborated with greats such as Max Roach, Cecil Taylor and Julius Hemphill. The drummer formed the Asian American Orchestra in the late 90’s and the AAO has performed the works of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, and Thelonious Monk. As you can see, Brown is a smart fellow and a serious jazz musician.

This new project is the AAO’s twist on some of the music you made after you put your hard bop roots in storage and began exploring multi-cultural music. Brown recorded “India & Africa a Tribute to John Coltrane” live at Yoshis, a popular jazz club in the Bay Area. Water Baby Records released the project last month. The drummer divided the album into two suites “India Diaspora” and “Suite: Africa. The former is straight ahead jazz, and the latter is avant-garde. My only disclaimer is you have to be patient with this album because it starts slow.

Steve Oda plays the North Indian lute, and Dana Pandey wails on the North Indian drums on “Tabla-Sarod Duet”. Midway through the composition, they trade measures, and it’s really a crowd pleaser. On “Exaltation” Kenneth Nash chants while playing African percussions. Nash tries to channel your spirit. He chants your name, and breaks into a chorus of the spiritual “Amazing Grace”. Frankly, it’s a little weird. “Africa” gets my vote for the best cut on the album. Tenor saxophonist Masaru Koga plays the kind of fat licks you invented. Koga blowing seems effortless. Mr. Coltrane, “India & Africa a Tribute to John Coltrane” is a solid album. It works largely because the AAO feeds off a live appreciative audience.
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