Inspiration takes all forms. The most common, when it comes to music, is a type of mimicry. The best, though, suggests a new direction. This prolix triple set from the British multi-hornman Sean Khan decorates a fresh route with signs along the path, the name Coltrane writ large upon them.
The layered voicings of strings, harp, and the rising and falling cadences of singer Heidi Vogel are pure Coltrane—think of the swirling density of the 1961 Village Vanguard recordings—but with a light touch that makes for lithe rhythms. Recastings of “Acknowledgement” from A Love Supreme and “Afro Blue”—the Trane ballad possessed with the most ferocious heft of all Trane ballads—have a dance pulse at their core. We’re not talking house music here, but it’s enough to get foundations stirring. I’ve always thought there was a shaded, submerged dance element in Coltrane’s music. That subterranean aspect gives it much of its tension, and that’s what Khan seems most interested in drawing forth here.
The length of this set means max exploration. There are the outright Coltrane numbers—rejiggered—and also fresh Khan originals in the Coltrane mode. What is a Coltrane mode? A push-and-pull of contrasts is crucial; the unfurling of sound like we’re being told a story. When Khan executes a cadenza on alto or soprano, the effect is that of a voice summoning forth across a room or conversing from the other side of a table. You always feel part of a Coltrane record, and though the means aren’t quite the same on this LP, the ethos is left unvitiated.
Small-band tunes like “Moment’s Notice” and “Equinox” are well-tightened. They make me think of the Coltrane Quartet warming up in a room before the tapes officially rolled in some parallel universe. Pianist Andy Noble and drummer Laurie Lowe are pressed into the McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones roles, with the challenge being to make the music drive in a way that brings Coltrane to the listener’s mind while also keeping this record foremost in it. To understand one artist’s rich crop of freedom is to find another way to cultivate one’s own. Consider this a triple album as double harvest.