John Coltrane's Spiritual Jazz Legacy

The Epica new 3-disk set by saxophonist Kamasi Washington has just been released on Brainfeeder Records. It’s of the same Spiritual Jazz musical DNA as John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, Meditations, Ascension, Cosmic Music, Sun Ship, and his other classics.

Jazz titans like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, and John Coltrane all broke music barriers. Ornette Coleman may have deconstructed music, but Coltrane stands apart as a music and spiritual seeker, more sufi-like than just a great jazz musician. Last week on Rhythm Planet, we featured his 1964 masterpiece, A Love Supreme, both the original and a spectacular live version by the Branford Marsalis Quartet, recorded in 2004.

This week, I thought we’d do a follow-up show and feature other artists who were influenced by Coltrane’s later albums. Most of the featured artists recorded these albums in the early to mid-1970s, following Coltrane’s death in 1967. You can tell by listening that Coltrane had a major impact on these other musical seekers. It was more than just musical sophistication and technical virtuosity. There is a strong psychological, spiritual element to their music as well.

We’ll start with an original ballad called “Welcome,” off Coltrane’s Kulu Sé Mama album, which was recorded in both New York and Los Angeles in 1965, immediately following the release of A Love Supreme. Next it’s Pharoah Sanders’s classic “The Creator has a Master Plan,” featuring the rich baritone of the late Leon Thomas. Pharoah Sanders was a member of Coltrane’s later quintet, which also featured Alice Coltrane and produced some remarkable and timeless music.

Then we’ve got another Coltrane devotee, Azar Lawrence, with “Bridge into the New Age,” a 1974 LP that was only reissued on CD in Japan. Azar is a native Angeleno who cut his teeth with Horace Tapscott’s Arkestra. Happily, he’s back on the scene again and held a residency for awhile at the now-defunct RG’s Club in Venice. Azar plays occasional gigs in California and New York, so go see him if you get the chance. Believe me—he’s as close to Coltrane as you can get and really channels the master’s vibe.

Kamasi Washington has a new, mind-bending project out called The Epic. If Gustav Mahler or Beethoven had been jazz artists, they might have sounded like this. With a huge ensemble, vocalists, and a big sweeping sound, Washington is attracting many young enthusiasts to the jazz scene, and will hopefully spur their interest in the other artists we’re featuring today. Let’s check out “Change of the Guard.” He really gets into a spiritual groove with cuts that are 12′ or longer, so this album probably won’t get a lot of airplay, except maybe on late-night public radio, but it’s certainly worth the listen!

We take a breather after that with an evergreen ballad by pianist Stanley Cowell, titled,“Equipoise.” Then, pianist Doug Carn and vocalist Jean Carne follow with “Time Is Running Out,”which they recorded in the 1970s in the short-lived quadraphonic (surround sound) mode for the wonderful Black Jazz Records. Both Carns are classically-trained musicians, and their albums are cult classics.





Tom Schnabel