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Jazz review: Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano: Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane.

In 2007 BBC Radio commissioned saxophonist Dave Liebman to record an all-Coltrane program to mark the 40th anniversary of legendary saxophonist/composer John Coltrane’s passing. Asked to bring in Saxophone Summit—the band Liebman co-led with fellow saxophonists Joe Lovano and Ravi Coltrane—Liebman managed to assemble regular members Lovano, pianist Phil Markowitz, and drummer Billy Hart, along with bassist Ron McClure as a substitute for the unavailable Cecil McBee. Ten years later, the session is being released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Coltrane’s passing on July 17, 1967.

Billy Hart says that “we’re all just unbelievable Coltrane fans.” If the playing alone wasn’t enough to show that, there’s also the evidence of Liebman’s album Homage To John Coltrane (Owl Records), going back to 1987. This set opens with “Locomotion,” a distinctive take on the blues from Blue Train (Blue Note, 1958). The tune contains the germs of many later Coltrane works, and makes a great launching point, the classic two tenor lineup dueling with each other and egging each other on. A ballad medley showcases the two horns individually—Lovano on tenor for “Central Park West” from Coltrane’s Sound (Atlantic, 1964; but recorded in 1960); Liebman on soprano for “Dear Lord” from Transition (Impulse!, 1970, but recorded in 1965). This spiritual ballad has long had a special place for Liebman, and is the only composition repeated from his early tribute album.

“Ole” from Ole Coltrane (Atlantic, 1961) represents Coltrane’s long term interest in world music, which later came out in tunes like “India” and “Brazilia.” After an introduction featuring wood flute and flute, the Spanish-tinged melody is introduced by tenor and soprano saxophones. “Reverend King” from Cosmic Music (Impulse!, 1968, but recorded in 1966) features Liebman on flute, accompanied by Lovano’s alto clarinet: a lovely combination unique to this track. “Equinox” (also from Coltrane’s Sound) is another blues, returning to the tenor/soprano combination. The album closes with “Compassion” from Meditations (Impulse!, 1966), dipping into Trane’s late period. It gives Hart a solo showcase before launching into the free group improvisation with little steady pulse or set harmonic progressions that typifies late Coltrane. The band is so comfortable with this approach that they play it much like the earlier material: a bit more outside, but there is no sharp dividing line.

John Coltrane’s career was so compressed that the compositions here—recorded between 1958 and 1966—represent six distinct stylistic phases. The more-or-less chronological presentation demonstrates how far he progressed in such a brief period, as well as how he maintained his own voice all the way. Coltrane’s music needs no defense, but these players make an excellent case for it all the same.

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All About Jazz

Mark Suillivan

Jazz review: Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano: Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane. This superb musical dialogue is a worthy tribute to the great man of jazz to mark the 50th anniversary of his death.

So timeless is the saxophonist John Coltrane’s music that a recording made to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his death can be belatedly released to mark the 50th. This 2007 studio session, by the reeds players Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano, was made in New York for broadcast on Radio 3 in London. It’s a passionate and compelling reminder (if any were needed) of Trane’s endurance in jazz.

The date hits the ground running with Locomotion, from the album Blue Train. Liebman’s and Lovano’s twin tenor saxophones race through the blues-based theme in unison, breaking briefly for solo asides before each man takes a turn in the spotlight. Ron McClure on bass and Billy Hart on drums drive both players on wilfully.

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The Times (UK)

Chris Pearson

You could fairly call Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane a labor of love. Also obsession, and solidarity, and communal ritual. In any case, it’s the new album by Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano, both longtime specialists in the ways of Trane — and colleagues in Saxophone Summit, which originally also featured Michael Brecker, and then Ravi Coltrane.

On Compassion, Lovano and Liebman enlist Phil Markowitz on piano, Ron McClure on bass and Billy Hart on drums. The program — recorded in 2007 for the 40th anniversary of Coltrane’s death, and now out on Resonance Records — covers a range from balladic to boppish to ecstatic. “Equinox” inhabits a middle ground, with a percolating intro that opens up to a deeply swinging groove, both saxophonists in excellent form. Saxophone Summit (with Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman, and Greg Osby) will perform June 27-July 1 at Birdland Jazz Club.

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Nate Chinen

Ten years ago, for the 40th anniversary of the inspirational saxophonist John Coltrane’s death, the BBC’s Jazz on 3 commissioned a tribute from sax virtuosi Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano, embracing the hard-bop Coltrane of the late 1950s as well as the anthemic free-jazz master he became. Resonance has put those tapes out for this 50th-anniversary year. Liebman had to assemble a hastily modified version of his Saxophone Summit band (Phil Markowitz is on piano, the wonderful Billy Hart on drums), but the collective passion is palpable, as is the jam-session uninhibitedness. Liebman and Lovano rip through Coltrane’s boppish Locomotion as a two-tenor tussle; Lovano’s rugged tenor and Liebman’s ethereal soprano sharply contrast on a segue of Central Park West and the rapturous Dear Lord, Coltrane’s world musicianship is evoked by the Spanish theme of Ole, there’s an Amazing Grace mood to Reverend King, and a prayerlike ecstasy to the freeform title track. The full breadth of the shortlived Coltrane’s legacy is rarely celebrated so authoritatively and completely.

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The Guardian

John Fordham

The Irish Times reviews the newest album in a recent article titled “Dave Liebman/Joe Lovano, Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane, drinking deep from the Coltrane cup”.

“There is no shortage of tributes to John Coltrane but when those paying homage are Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano, two of the great saxophonist’s most learned and gifted disciples, it’s clear that there will be more than just music under consideration.

Coltrane’s combination of instrumental virtuosity, tireless creativity and deep spirituality left its mark on the generations that followed him.

The six Coltrane compositions here, including Locomotion, Central Park West and Equinox, are given new life by two great saxophonists, with bravura support from pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Ron McClure and drummer Billy Hart, who have been strong enough to drink deep from the Coltrane cup and come out the other side with voices of their own.”

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Irish Times

Cormac Larkin