REVIEW: A Concert for Alice and John with Pharoah Sanders at the Barbican (2017 EFG LJF)

Pharaoh Sanders
Photo credit: Mick Destino

A Concert for Alice and John: Pharoah Sanders Quartet + Denys Baptiste Quartet + Alina Bzhezhinska Quartet
(Barbican. 18 November 2017. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by AJ Dehany)  

A triple bill marking the 50th anniversary of the passing of John Coltrane and the tenth of Alice Coltrane restated the enduring legacy and relevance of these timeless figures of modern jazz.

Ukrainian-Polish harpist Alina Bzhezhinska is perhaps the foremost contemporary interpreter of Alice Coltrane’s work. In the year of what would have been Alice’s 80th birthday, Alina and her superb quartet are devoted champions of the pathfinding spiritual jazz of the increasingly highly-regarded albums Alice Coltrane made in the 1970s after John’s death in 1967. The mainstays are Alina’s innovative harp playing and saxophonist Tony Kofi’s incredible channeling of John Coltrane while unmistakably possessing his own powerful identity. Alice’s signature piece Journey in Satchidananda was the start of their own journey into her work, and closed the concert with close interplay from this tightly-knit group.

Alina Bzhezhinska and Larry Bartley
Photo credit: Mick Destino

Denys Baptiste‘s quartet brought selections from their new album The Late Trane which is devoted to deep cuts from John’s final years 1963-67. Nikki Yeoh on piano and synth brought original textures to the sublime reveries of Peace on Earth and After The Rain. The addition of a duelling tenor Steve Williamson on Vigil seemed to inspire the inventive Denys Baptiste to more risky tenor playing, with great rhythmic invention from drummer Rod Youngs. A short duet with bass player Larry Bartley on the balladic Dear Lord concluded a fine set ranging from the cosmic to the spiritual.

Pharoah Sanders worked with both of Alice and John, coming to prominence as part of a double tenor lineup with John and as one of three tenors on 1965’s Ascension. He contributed to Cosmic Music (recorded in 1966 and 1968 and credited to both Alice and John). After John’s passing he worked with Alice on her albums including 1970’s Journey In Satchidananda. Now aged 77, his quartet gig was as much a celebration of Pharoah’s own life as it was of the Coltranes.

When he blows the horn he’s still the most out-there guy on the stage, opening with four well-chosen dissonances that made bassist Larry Bartley crack a smile with pianist William Henderson. Pharoah looked frail sitting on stage for lengthy periods while the group drove the tunes along, but in action he is still a considerable force. We didn’t get the full free jazz workout that Pharoah pioneered from the sixties but he found plenty of outside notes and weird multiphonics to extrapolate from some surprisingly gentle selections of material including A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square.

On Lazy Bird the group swung as hard as they come, with William Henderson’s super-charged colorations on piano and the driving rhythms of Oli Hayhurst on bass and Gene Calderazzo on drums. As a trio in themselves they’re tremendous, a fearsome hard-bopping engine powering Pharoah’s fast spiralling runs. The group evokes the range and quality of Coltrane’s Classic Quartet, while bringing the seismic presence of Pharoah Sanders, transcending that frail body, ringing out through the horn.

AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk

– For more Coltrane history – this review of Alina Bzhezhinska at the Vortex
– Alina Brzhezhinska’s album Inspiration will be released in April 2018.
– Denys Baptiste’s The Late Trane is available on Edition Records.



Pharaoh Sanders saxophone
William Henderson piano
Oli Hayhurst bass
Gene Calderazzo drums

Lazy bird
a nightingale sang in berkeley square
[one tbc]
Creator has a master plan
African highlife

DENYS BAPTISTE QUARTET performing The Late Trane

Denys Baptiste saxophone
Nikki Yeah piano
Rod Youngs drums
Larry Bartley bass
(plus Steve Williamson saxophone on Vigil)

Living Space (intro) U1-1 U1-2 (8ve)
Ascent —> U1.4
Peace On Earth (short)
After The Rain (Clean)
Vigil —> U1.3
(Dear Lord)?


Alina Bzhezhinska harp
Tony Kofi saxophone
Larry Bartley bass
Joel Prime drums/percussion

Intro Wisdom Eye
Blue Nile
Los Caballos
Inspired by Lovely Sky Boat
Journey in Satchidananda

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