Azar Lawrence, Jason Moran, Paul Motian, and Steve Coleman
Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, Fri., July 2, 2010
In the mid-1970s, Azar Lawrence was the preeminent post-Coltrane saxophonist, pairing with McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, and Miles Davis while still in his teens. Just as quickly, he disappeared from the scene and didn't resurface for three decades. Following a 2008 comeback album, Lawrence appears to have hit his stride with Mystic Journey (Furthermore Recordings), a powerful statement that channels the fiery spirit of Coltrane's legacy. Tyner's explosive "Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit," which Lawrence recorded with the pianist on 1973's Enlightenment, is the centerpiece here, countered with a nod to Coltrane's gentle side on ballad "Say It Over Again." It's been a decade since Jason Moran's second album, Facing Left, introduced us to his formidable trio the Bandwagon, with bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits. Ten (Blue Note) finds the trio in its usual adventurous mood, whether using Jimi Hendrix's Monterey Pop Festival performance as inspiration for "Feedback Pt. 2," splicing 'n' dicing Thelonious Monk's beautiful "Crepuscule With Nellie" into hip-hop, or continuing variations on a theme with the jaunty "Gangsterism Over 10 Years." Moran can also be found alongside exquisite drummer Paul Motian and brilliant saxophonist Chris Potter on Lost in a Dream (ECM), a live trio recording from the Village Vanguard. This lovely session of mostly Motian originals gets contemplative through the delicate yet compelling interplay we've come to associate with the spacious ECM sound. Alto saxophonist/composer Steve Coleman spearheaded the M-Base movement of the 1980s that pushed jazz in a more rhythmically complex direction. Harvesting Semblances and Affinities (Pi Recordings) is certainly rhythmically and compositionally intense, almost to the point of being mathematical. With a three-horn front line, Coleman and his group, Five Elements, create music that's challenging but rewarding for those with open ears.