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Portland Jazz Festival: A Celebration of ECM

Dance-especially jazz ballet-seems an unlikely conduit for John Coltrane’s innovative and affecting music. Nevertheless, Coltrane came alive beneath a glowing full moon at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. Through City Ballet of Angeles and its artistic director Robyn Gardenhire, an upscale 1950s Greenwich Village club was recreated for “Behind the Red Door.” In this fantasy setting, originally produced at the Henry Fonda Theatre in 2005, scantily clad female dancers entertained club patrons while the Altman Ensemble played Trane’s mainstream tunes for copasetic ambiance.

The effort was Gardenhire’s attempt to reach both dance-oriented patrons and those unacquainted with the art form through this spirited program that merged traditional ballet with live jazz: In this instance, Coltrane’s compositions from his landmark Giant Steps album. That proved to be a daunting task for both the dancers and the band, which was clearly pushed beyond its normal boundaries. The group, founded by reedist Ralph Gibson in 1995, a cornerstone of LA’s Leimert Park’s thriving jazz scene, had to maintain a reliable cadence for the dancers. It included pianist and musical director Cengiz Yaltkaya, trumpeter Ron Sewer, bassist Mark Boykin and drummer Giovanni Nickens. The troupe, all classically trained and used to rigid choreography, was required to improvise and be connected to the ensemble’s nuances.

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