Nearly 37 year after his death at the relatively youthful age of 40, John Coltrane remains a primary source of jazz inspiration. Despite a too-brief career, his music arcs through a rich array of creative activity, from early rhythm and blues bands to the multilayered spirituality of his final years.
It was appropriate that his music was celebrated on Valentine's Day with a performance of his epic "A Love Supreme."
But the concert -- presented by the Pasadena Jazz Institute at McKinney Auditorium as the second entry in its Black History Month series -- also offered an inclusive view of a remarkable span of creative activity. And with eight saxophonists, two rhythm sections, trumpeter Nolan Shaheen and trombonist Garnett Brown on hand, there was a plenitude of resources to accomplish the task.
The evening opened with the first tenor saxophonist, Gil Bernal, honking his way through a hard-swinging recollection of Coltrane's R&B years.
The next saxophonist, Carl Randall, aided by Shaheen and the rhythm section of pianist Bill Cunliffe, bassist John Heard and drummer Gerryck King, followed with "Bye, Bye, Blackbird" from the early Coltrane-Mile Davis association. Louis Taylor took on the note-rich "Trinkle, Tinkle" from Coltrane's Thelonious Monk collaboration, and Chuck Manning added "Moment's Notice" and "My Favorite Things." Wrapping the opening set, Justo Almario and Javier Veragara exchanged fast-paced choruses on "Giant Steps" and "So What."
The concert's second half began with a lengthy offering from the golden voice of Dwight Trible. A reading of Coltrane's poem, "A Love Supreme," by a youthful Jordan Isaac was followed by a rendering of the musical "A Love Supreme" by Dave Moody, with pianist William Henderson, drummer Lorca Hart and Heard. Climactically, the entire ensemble joined in a rousing, jam-session-style closing.
Despite its moments of high quality, however, the evening's excessive length indirectly, and ironically, underscored Coltrane's great powers of sustained creativity. Frequently playing lengthy solos and lengthier sets, he was never wearying, always compelling -- qualities not always present in the otherwise well-intentioned tribute.