|JAZZ REVIEW; The Refractions of Coltrane
By BEN RATLIFF
John Coltrane's style has been an amplifier for four decades of saxophonists: they plug themselves into it, and though different things come out, they're all mediated by the same source. Pharoah Sanders, 14 years younger than Coltrane, recorded and performed with him at the end of his life, in the mid-1960's. Kenny Garrett came along in the 1980's. They're bigger than themselves, in a sense, each representing something crucial about the jazz improvising of his time.
Through Sunday at the Blue Note they're sharing the stage, taking turns soloing over a paint-peeling rhythm section. The setup is an old one, a casual assignment recalling older pairings of saxophonists like Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt. The common bond is Coltrane. Each of the four pieces they played in Tuesday night's early set reflected a specific moment and style in Coltrane's career after 1959, and the two saxophonists played through them in very different ways.
Mr. Garrett, in his 40's now, still plays with an intensity you tend to associate with people in their 20's. And in his rabbitlike speed and surging power, there's remarkable rhythmic articulation and knowledge of harmony, which helps him know where he wants to go. He never seems to perform in half-measures; he's a music student's idol, reliably professional.
But Pharoah Sanders! His performances can come swathed in so much mysticism that you can't see the dimensions of his talent. His famous gargling saxophone scream, meant to open himself up, can muddy the picture instead: it's a smokescreen for when he's having an off night. But on Tuesday night you could hear the whole of him. If he isn't nearly the fast, fluid harmonic improviser that Mr. Garrett is, he plays harmony ably, and he's a truly great free player. At his best, his sound, lush and cataclysmic, high overtones seeping into low runs, bunches of notes smeared together into one, acts not just as the shock it provoked in the 60's but as an effusive, thoroughly worked-out language of pure sound.
There were moments when this combination of players felt special, inspired -- especially in Mr. Garrett's ''2 Down & 1 Across,'' when Mr. Sanders, 62, improvised freely against bass and drums alone. Jeff Watts played cartloads of drums, sloshing four-four jazz rhythm into a shuffle and back again, using the continuing overlaid triplet rhythms; his assault accomplished its goal, kicking Mr. Sanders into more and more detail.
''Body and Soul,'' in Coltrane-style, slow-hymn tempo, also worked out for both of them, showing the vast difference between the players in ballads. The set ended with ''Giant Steps,'' Coltrane's exercise in swiftly moving harmony, perfect for Mr. Garrett but completely the wrong tune for Mr. Sanders. It didn't really matter; by that time the gig had already validated itself.
Published: 09 - 12 - 2003 , Late Edition - Final , Section E , Column 5 , Page 25