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Don’t tread here lightly. An ad hoc quintet of seemingly odd bedfellows plays A Love Supreme and Meditations back to back over the course of one hour and 48 minutes. The band respects the original compositions, then detonates them. The music is intense, sometimes scary, occasionally annoying and often sublime.
Saxophonist Vinny Golia, 74, acts as the group’s jazz anchor — although, thankfully, his brawny sound shows that, while he may be influenced by Trane — who isn’t? — he’s not an acolyte. Drummer John Hanrahan and organist Wayne Peet, most closely associated with the jam-band scene, show an affinity for the material. Bassist Mike Watt hails from punk (Minutemen, fireHOSE) but has developed a far-reaching technique that renders him up to the task. Avant-guitarist Henry Kaiser’s histrionics — sonic onslaughts of pure speed, slurs, warbles and noisy effects — are what most often take the music into the warped stratosphere.
Is A Love Supreme so sacrosanct it shouldn’t be messed with? Hell, no. Not when you can deconstruct it with as much abandon as these guys. The ensemble wisely does not attempt to capture the contemplative spiritualism of the 1965 original. This A Love Supreme rocks, even though it’s often propelled by swing rhythms. It’s all there at the beginning of “Pursuance”: Watt’s knotty electric bass solo makes way for 20 seconds of Kaiser’s flame-throwing. Then Hanrahan cracks his snare and the full band assaults the melody line, issuing a massive slab of sound. The playing remains hard, fast and heavy.
The band’s rendering of Meditations — a heralded piece of Coltrane’s late-period canon — is less successful, in large part because there’s not much of a compositional blueprint to follow, and this quintet can’t approach the facility for free playing that Coltrane’s ’66 band (which included Pharoah Sanders) had. Golia — on tenor, soprano and baritone — proves an adept out player and serves up most of the thrills amid the six pieces. But too often the quintet’s playing devolves into extended cacophony, a group primal scream.