Repertory and tribute bands abound, but few sound as heartfelt as Saxophone Summit, a three-saxophone sextet adopting the autumnal music of John Coltrane as its touchstone. Dave Liebman leads this all-star entourage with fellow saxophonists Joe Lovano and Ravi Coltrane, John’s duly talented son. But democracy rules Saxophone Summit. No one musician steals the spotlight, save the seminal figure of the elder Coltrane. His intense mid-’60s music graduated to a high plane of spiritual supplication, but it’s seldom been covered by his disciples.
Seraphic Light, the band’s sophomore release, is dedicated to former Sax Summit band member Michael Brecker – arguably the most influential saxophonist since John Coltrane – whose death in January 2007 at the age of 57 caused much sadness in the jazz community. Bloodlines run thick here as brother Randy Brecker is on board, contributing his virile trumpet to two songs, including his “Message to Mike,” built on a catchy M.B. lick from an early-’90s Brecker Brothers recording.
Expressive original compositions come from every band member, including pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Cecil McBee, and drummer Billy Hart, but the latter part of the program is in a Trane vein. Trane’s “Cosmos,” “Seraphic Light,” and “Expression” elicit uninhibited free-blowing from the saxophonists – creating sounds that, to the uninitiated, may seem to resonate from an overabundance of testosterone. When Trane first introduced this type of aggressive soloing during the height of the civil rights movement, his improvised musical prayers were often misinterpreted as angry racial commentary. Credit goes to the collective known as Saxophone Summit for bringing Trane’s later works to the fore, reminding listeners that life and love are things worthy of boisterous praise.
- James Rozzi