by Mike Hobart, Financial Times

John and Alice Coltrane’s combined musical legacy stretches from angular be-bop and fierce expressionism to spiritual jazz and is a prime influence on the current resurgence in modern jazz. Their work is much covered, but, as alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin’s zesty jam-session take shows, if you pay respect and avoid reverence, there’s room for another view. Benjamin’s celebration presents a combined total of 30-plus musicians in different combinations playing seven John Coltrane and six Alice Coltrane covers. It took two days to record, themes are focused and solos come with rhythms that refresh the soul. The vibe of each track is tailored to those who take part. First track “Liberia”, written by John and featuring veteran alto saxophonist Gary Bartz, opens with a searing sax duet before settling into fast walking-bass swing. Alice Coltrane’s “Prema” comes next with harp, flute and spiritual Benjamin sax, followed by John Coltrane’s lovely ballad “Central Park West” with vocalist Jazzmeia Horn over contemporary R&B beats. The set closes with “Affinity”, from John Coltrane’s later years, roaring along at speed as Benjamin swaps phrases with left-of-centre alto saxophonists Greg Osby and Bruce Williams. New Yorker Benjamin is the constant which gives the album coherence. Her sharp-angled lines, streetwise rhythms and acid tone follow in the footsteps of Kenny Garrett by mixing jazz complexity with R&B shout. This malleable approach, allied with technical skill, allows Benjamin to flit easily between the harmonically complex “Spiral”, the blissful “Turiya and Ramakrishna” and the gospel-soaked “Going Home”. The album also showcases Benjamin’s jazz roots. Her previous album Rise Up delivered pithy phrases and grooves influenced by Prince, but here she stretches out with jazz heavyweights playing their heart out just for the joy. ★★★★☆

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