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Back in 1986, at San Francisco International Airport, I was at approached by a young lady selling tee shirts bearing an image of John Coltrane and the quotation "Damn The Rules - You Play All Twelve Notes In Your Solo Anyway" (I bought one and wish I'd bought ten). I later found out she belonged to a kind of sect that actually worshipped - as in saying prayers to - Coltrane; whether that organisation still exists today or not I don't know, but the discovery and release of this 1981 tape from the Willisau Festival in Switzerland featuring Trane's last drummer Rashied Ali and the young and monumentally gifted tenor saxophonist and pianist Arthur Rhames, who died of AIDS-related illness on December 27th 1989 aged 32, serves as a strong reminder of how pervasive Coltrane's influence was (and arguably still is) over the generation of jazz musicians that grew up after Trane's death.
This double album has all the fire of a revival meeting, and Coltrane's
spirit and music is omnipresent.
The Dynamic Duo covers "Mr P.C.", "Giant Steps", "Impressions", "Lazy Bird", "Moment's Notice", "Acknowledgement" (though this sounds like Pharoah Sanders' "The Creator Has A Master Plan" to me), "Resolution" and "Pursuance" (plus Miles' "Tune Up" and Billy Eckstine's "I Want To Talk About You") and references several more Trane compositions and solos. Comparing Rhames' tenor playing to Coltrane's, as my Wire colleague David Keenan did in a recent review, is a little unfair, but Keenan is on the ball when he says that Rhames and Ali nail "Mr P.C." to the wall. Rhames, however, does something that Coltrane never did - he plays the hell out of the piano, managing to reference all of Coltrane's major pianists from Tommy Flanagan to McCoy Tyner to Alice Coltrane, and even turning in a fine solo on the furiously difficult changes of "Giant Steps".
Ali sounds less comfortable in the rigid tempi - his funk on "Acknowledgement" is decidedly wooden - but is in full flight on the extended ecstatic workouts. On the tenor (an instrument that Ali persuaded him to take up, according to the drummer's rather rambling and largely unnecessary 16 minute spoken introduction to disc one), Rhames is not surprisingly well-versed in bop (Parker and Rollins are in there) but his playing reveals no direct influence of post-Ascension Coltrane, Ayler, Wright or Sanders.
He was a superb guitarist too, playing with, amongst others, Larry Coryell and Slave, and one can only imagine what the Willisau set would have been like had he brought that axe along too. Still, as both Rhames and Mongezi Feza checked out far too early, the (re)appearance of their magnificent performances is cause for celebration indeed.
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