John Coltrane may well have died on 17 July – indeed, sadly, he did 52 years ago – but on 17 July 2019 his spirit was evident at Café Oto for a 52nd anniversary commemorative concert featuring the Alan Skidmore Quartet. This event was organised by musician and producer Mark Wastell of Confront Recordings who had invited Alan to play at the previous concert in 2017 which marked fifty years since Coltrane’s death and which subsequently featured as a Confront CD set.
The Alan Skidmore Quartet
This year it was an all-Coltrane evening spread over three magnificent sets.
In the first of these Alan’s regular quartet featuring Steve Melling on piano, Andrew Cleyndert on double bass and Miles Levin on drums enchanted the audience with a continuous performance of three tracks from the seminal album A Love Supreme. They started with Resolution, segued into Pursuance and brought the first part of the evening to a close with the rarely performed Psalm. The last strains of this died away into one of those moments of enraptured silence before the extended applause broke out.
Alan plays Psalm
In his introduction Alan had explained that he couldn’t stand up for long periods because of having a leg full of steel rods which resulted from an accident some 40 years ago. So, Alan sat out the second set while the Steve Melling trio were joined by guest tenor saxophonist Ed Jones. Remaining with Coltrane material they treated us to blues and ballads including Mr Day from Coltrane Plays The Blues from 1962, Central Park West from Coltrane’s Sound released in 1964 and Moment’s Notice from the early Blue Trane from 1957.
Steve Melling Trio
The final set saw Alan with the quartet playing one of his most popular numbers After the Rain which Alan recorded with a full orchestra on the album with the same name in 1998. Utterly spellbinding in quieter ballad mode, Alan then wrapped up the evening by asking Ed Jones and Howard Cottle (who had featured alongside Alan in Paul Dunmall’s Sun Ship Quartet two years earlier) to join him on the stage. The intensity, inventiveness and variety of these three tenor sax masters on Transition from the epynymous posthumous album. But they did not overshadow Melling, Cleyndert and especially Miles Levin who all made huge contributions to this barnstorming end to a fabulous evening.
If there is an afterlife, JC would have been smiling broadly and applauding this wonderful tribute.
The finale with (l-r) Steve Melling, Ed Jones, Alan Skidmore, Andrew Cleyndert, Howard Cottle and Miles Levin
The three tenors
UPDATE 27 August 2019
At the Café Oto gig was renowned jazz journalist and reviewer John Fordham. He obviously enjoyed the evening and wrote this for the September issue of Jazzwise magazine.
The two most recent albums to feature Alan Skidmore have been garnering excellent international reviews. The double CD of Skid’s quartet live in Berlin and at the Boxford Fleece have been praised in the UK and the USA.
While the John Coltrane Tribute at the Café Oto in 2017 has also attracted rave reviews especially in America.
This journal has an extended review which you can read here – scroll down to the fourth item. But here’s a flavour:
For the third set, Dunmall’s Sun Ship Quartet is joined by British tenor titan Alan Skidmore. Like Dunmall, Skidmore is a self-professed Coltrane acolyte and has delved deeply into Coltrane’s playing and compositions through his career. Skidmore and Dunmall played together in the group Tenor Tonic in the mid-80s but collaborated only rarely since then so this meet-up is particularly intriguing. With three reed players, things could easily become an impenetrable mess, but the group manages to avoid that. The five launch off on “Attaining,” with one horn intoning the plaintive theme over Bianco and Brice’s slow, loose simmer. The music wells as the full ensemble comes in to restate the theme, then opens up into extended solos for each of the horn players. Each attacks their explication with lithe, freely-melodic vitality, with Dunmall’s insistent stabbing take particularly arresting. The final Sun Ship tune, “Ascent,” is one of the strongest of the recording, starting with a pliantly probing bass solo which segues into a series of particularly searing solos by the reed players. Skidmore kicks things off with molten torrents that spill across the framework of the theme with thoughtful intensity. Dunmall switches to soprano and weaves a deconstruction of “My Favorite Things” into his labyrinthine take. Cottle wraps things up with incendiary passion, digging in to the tune with overblown multiphonics and cascading flurries. The three come together for a brief, three-way joust at the end that closes things with ardent abandon.
This blog was equally impressed by the recording of the concert. Again the whole piece is here but this will give you a taste of the reviewer’s opinion.
This album is like a bridge between traditions and innovations, modal and modern jazz, nervous and complicated bebop, aggressive hard bop, stable and calm cool jazz or frantic, wild, frustrating, aggressive and passionate free improvisations. Rich, multi-layered, colorful and universal musical pattern is created. It’s contained with dozens of textures, sounds, timbres, all kinds of rhythms, melodies, exotic or rare ways of playing, suggestive instrumentation and evocative musical language. The changes of moods and playing manners are just marvelous – it turns the music into dynamic, tremendous and sparkling set of compositions. “Paul Dunmall Sun Ship Quartet” is playing on every composition with famous jazz masters. Various combos are formed to create a different sound and mood. The last composition “Ascension” joins all musicians at one scene for free, passionate and bright improvisation. …
Julie Kjaer shows her best abilities of improvising and makes an impact on the whole sound. The saxophonists Paul Dunmall, Howard Cottle and Alan Skidmore create the basic of the melodic section. Wild, frantic, thrilling, scratching, furious, scandalous and aggressive solos meet the soft and gentle lyrical pieces, passionate and expressive melodies, trendy and fabulous riffs, luminous, growling and radiant bursts of energy or – romantic, dreamy, cool and simply beautiful excerpts. The saxophones dictate the mood and sound of whole album. It gives the main tune to the melody line also. The reeds is the source of energy, crazy ideas, expressive and luminous mood, driving and inspiring style and wild bursts.
In his review Bruce Lee Gallanter of the Downtown Music Gallery in New York said this of the Café Oto CDs.
On the second disc, the Sun Ship Quartet is joined by Alan Skidmore, now with three tenor saxists, the expanded group bringing the energy to boiling point. Drummer, Tony Bianco, pulls off a few great solos sounding little Elvin Jones on swirling mallets. The three sax quintet, sound astonishing on two more songs from “Sun Ship”, burning, erupting, exploding in Nirvana. The final piece is an extraordinary version of Coltrane’s classic “Ascension”, the original version which featured a half dozen extra saxists. It is the crowning way to bring this disc to an incredible conclusion, all three saxists getting a chance to stretch out, with the first up trio added for good measure, several layers of spirits, cosmic currents all rising together. It is one of the first days of Spring today (4/24/19) and the Sun and spiritual music sound perfect together after a long, cold, dismal at times winter. A toast to this mighty fine two CD set, no doubt one of this years best efforts!
And in the UK the Jazzwise issue for June carries this glowing 4 star review: