It’s not surprising that the spirit of John Coltrane hovers over pianist Lewis Porter’s fourth album as a leader. After all, Porter wrote a whole book about the guy, John Coltrane: His Life and Music. That book was published 20 years ago, but the continuing influence that Trane and the other members of his classic ’60s quartet have had on Porter is evident on at least half of Beauty & Mystery’s 10 cuts. Two of those obvious debt-holders, “Birthplace” and “Blues for Trane and McCoy,” feature saxophonist Tia Fuller, who plays soprano on the former and alto on the latter. The almost ominous sense of momentum they carry harks back strongly to the Crescent era. But they’re by no means carbon copies; Fuller is a more droll player than Trane, and Porter’s main structural gambit for the blues—make the intricate unison head seven choruses long and don’t play it until the very end of the tune—is a pleasant surprise.
Other Trane-infused material includes a fractured take on “Bye Bye Blackbird” and the aptly titled “Dazzling Raga,” a product of Porter’s long-held interest in Indian music (shared by you know who). The “Jimmy” referenced in “From Giovanni to Jimmy” is Jimmy Garrison; the “Giovanni” refers to the bassist on this date, John Patitucci, whose upright playing is typically authoritative. Elvin Jones doesn’t get a shout-out, but drummer Terri Lyne Carrington can summon up more than a hint of his volcanic edge when necessary.
Enjoyable as these tracks are, though, the album’s less Trane-ish half stays longer in the memory. “Chasing Lines” employs “Cherokee” changes in the service of take-no-prisoners improv, Porter goes all Tommy Flanagan for Ted Chubb’s haunting ballad “1919,” and Patitucci testifies on a gorgeous reading of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.”
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