Compassion contains more recent material than other archival releases on the Resonance label. It was recorded in 2007 for broadcast on BBC Radio in the U.K. Saxophonists Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano, pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Ron McClure and drummer Billy Hart commemorate the 40th anniversary of John Coltrane’s death in 1967. The typically classy Resonance production includes a 24-page booklet that fills in the backstory, with statements from all five musicians and many nice photos. The occasion is a blowing session, but one with a plan. The seven Coltrane originals represent all periods of his short, monumental career. Therefore the players can respond to each of the distinct aesthetic worlds that Coltrane occupied.
“Locomotion,” a hard-bop blues with a bridge, is from the classic 1958 album Blue Train. Out of its opening commanding announcement, Coltrane charged like a one-man cavalry. In 2007 Liebman and Lovano acknowledge Coltrane’s spiritual power without imitating him. Both on tenor saxophone, they jointly recreate Coltrane’s headlong charge, then solo in their own postmodern languages: floods of exhilarating free association (Lovano); shrill expletives and hard angles (Liebman). Coltrane did not solo on his 1960 recording of “Central Park West,” which sets Lovano absolutely free to wander among the multiple key centers of this solemn ballad and come upon his own revelations. Liebman also has a ballad, “Dear Lord,” unusually diatonic for 1965 Coltrane. On soprano, he chooses his slow path through the song like a man discovering how to bare his soul.
The 17-minute title track (from Meditations, 1966) launches the ensemble into the wild uncharted waters of late Coltrane, where all passages to beauty run through chaos. Hart, Markowitz and Liebman, in their spontaneous creative reactions to freedom, dig deep. This new “Compassion” is huge, diverse and sustained, although a vote is hereby cast for Lovano to abandon the aulochrome, an annoying, gimmicky instrument.