Reviews CJO Coltrane (TessaBlake)839(lead)_resized

Published on January 28th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann and Jon Santiago


The Charleston Jazz Orchestra Catches the ‘Trane

Over the years, the three dozen musicians in the Charleston Jazz Orchestra’s rotation have developed a strong sound and great chemistry within the big-band format with concerts at the Charleston Music Hall. It’s been especially fun watching trumpeter and bandleader Charlton Singleton gain confidence as the conductor and emcee. He’s a natural on the horn and on the mic.

The Charleston Jazz Orchestra dazzled the audience at the Charleston Music Hall with Coltrane: The Music of John Coltrane on on Saturday evening, Jan. 26.


Metronome Charleston and guest reviewer Jon Santiago caught the first of two individual shows on Saturday. Both sets featured original arrangements of Coltrane faves and deep cuts.

It was his first experience with the CJO at the Music Hall, and he enjoyed it immensely. John Coltrane was an amazing talent, and he contributed to a genre defining repertoire to the jazz world. The Charleston Jazz Orchestra certainly lived up to its rep with this performance.

The early show began with an elegant but rather lengthy introduction from JAC president and executive director Leah Suárez, who greeted the nearly packed house after the CJO’s 20 musicians took their places on the bandstand. Suárez introduced Singleton and featured sax player and arranger Mark Sterbank, and they engaged in a quick chat about the complex stylings of Coltrane’s music and significance of his legacy. It was a necessary formality, but it seemed a little dull to have the entire band sit there through the whole thing.

Suárez and Singleton used to chat with the late Jack McCray, the CJO’s founding producer, before each show, and the exchanges were usually a bit more fun, natural, and lively. But the entire JAC family has been dealing with McCray’s sudden passing for more than a year, so a little awkwardness is inevitable. The other intros at the very beginning seemed overlong and not very informative either. We sat thinking, ‘Let’s get on with the music!'”

Singleton and the band certainly dove right into things, opening with the dynamic “Giant Steps,” an upbeat and complex standard that fans recognized. It features an arrangement by Singleton himself. Once they played through the first two or three tunes, the CJO really warmed up. The easy-going, Latin-tinged “Naima” (from the Giant Steps album) featured great woodwind/horn arrangements by JAC flute veteran David Heyward (he wasn’t on stage last night, but his presence was felt).

Given that Coltrane was one of those sax players other sax players measure their chops against, it’s interesting that the musical arrangements were not heavily tilted toward featuring the sax. There was plenty on those lead sheets for everybody.

A slinky version of “The Sleeper” (from the album Cannonball & Coltrane) included a bluesy solo by stand-up bassist Jeremy Wolf and plenty of slappy drum accents and buzzy fills from Ron Wiltrout. Singleton congratulated sax player Jon Phillips for the in-house arrangement. Thank goodness we could hear the bass loud and clear; the instrument usually gets lost in the mix at other jazz/swing concerts.

The rendition of “Big Nick” had it all with a great arrangement by pianist Gerald Gregory. The band was all warmed up by this point in the evening. They tore into this number. It was a real treat. The bass and drums are the heartbeat of the sound on this song.

Suárez often joins the big band to sing, but this time the set called for featured vocalist Anthony Burke on smooth renditions of “Lush Life” and “They Say It’s Wonderful.” His low tones were mighty rich, and his peculiar vibrato was enjoyable, but his delivery seemed over-the-top at times with a tad too much “lounge singer” style. He was dashing and cool with a rich voice. It’s been said that the saxophone has harmonic colors most like a human voice. But we had really mixed reactions to Burke’s vocal style, principally the phrasing. Sometimes it sounded like Ella Fitzgerald’s phrasing, but hers is a warm, natural style. Sometimes he sounded like Anthony Newley, the British singer whom people claim influenced David Bowie’s singing.

Overall, the CJO did a terrific job with a variety of Coltrane material — especially the lavishly orchestrated stuff like “A Love Supreme” and “My Favorite Things.” Soloists Tyler Ross (on guitar) and Kevin Hackler (on trumpet) earned quick applause at times, but the entire woodwind section — Sterbank (on tenor sax), Phillips (on alto sax), Robert Lewis (on clarinet and alto sax), Jack Petit (tenor sax, and John Cobb (baritone sax) — shined the brightest. As a team, they collective captured and delivered the spirit and style of Coltrane with grace and conviction.

Check out and for more info and details about the orchestra and other upcoming events in the 2013 season.

All photos by Tessa Blake, courtesy of the Jazz Artists of Charleston.




Powered by Facebook Comments

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.

Back to Top ↑