ree Jazz in the late 1960’s was very strongly influenced by John Coltrane and his never-ending drive to break down the role of composition in Jazz (or to create “instant compositions”) in his quest to communicate with his fellow musicians and audience on a spiritual plane. When performed by musicians with attentive ears and open hearts, the best improvised music can reach heights of interplay and passion that can leave the listener breathless. The forces of nature and intellect involved are difficult to describe; it’s easier to just experience it yourself. Of course, Coltrane’s impact was felt beyond Jazz as acolytes like John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana sought to fuse this music with psychedelic Rock.
I mention all this because guitarist Tisziji Munoz makes explicit in his liner notes a need to bring back this kind of spiritual energy music. Recorded in New York on October 2001, Munoz’ stated purpose was to “demand no less than Divine Radiance form everyone, in order to balance out the loss of light and the flood of sorrow released on September 11, 2001.” Munoz’ aspirations can be seen in his choice of musicians for this session- tenor sax player Ravi Coltrane is John Coltrane’s son, and tenor sax player Pharoah Sanders and drummer Rashied Ali are veterans of Coltrane’s final group. The bassists Cecil McBee and Don Pate also contribute to the proceedings, the former a fixture on Sanders’ landmark late 60s albums and the latter an associate of Gil Evans for a time. Rounding out the group is keyboardist Paul Shaffer.
Yes, that Paul Shaffer.
Although miles removed from David Letterman and the World’s Most Dangerous Band, Shaffer actually holds up fairly well on most of the tracks. And, because he’s been a friend and collaborator with Munoz for over 30 years, nobody can doubt his sincerity.
Munoz’ obsession with John Coltrane may be on display throughout Divine Radiance, but his playing and composing actually brings to mind two of Coltrane’s guitarist disciples: his more tranquil moments evoke John McLaughlin, while Sonny Sharrock is the obvious signpost when Munoz works up a good head of steam. Indeed, the ghosts of early Mahavishnu Orchestra and Last Exit hang just as heavily over Divine Radiance as Coltrane’s guiding spirit.
The CD opens with “Moment Of Truth”, a brief melodic statement over a Jan Hammer-like wash of synths. Its sets the mood, much like the brief pieces on Keith Jarrett’s Expectations.
“Visiting This Planet-Leaving This Planet” features an arcing melody, almost all whole notes, delivered over another wash of synths. The result is very much like Birds Of Fire-era Mahavishnu Orchestra. Munoz unleashes a flurry of notes as the bassists lock into a complementary rhythm. Ravi also delivers a melodic solo as he builds from some basic Blues licks to some intensity. The piece ends by recapitulating the “Visiting” theme and then adding the “Leaving” theme. “Leaving” is more conventional, sounding like a movie score’s love theme.
“Initiation By Fire” offers some muscular, McCoy Tyner-style piano playing by Shaffer as the intensity level is increased. This is closer to John Coltrane’s Meditations than something that would feature Jan Hammer. Munoz starts out of the gate with a fiery, chromatically ascending solo. Pharoah Sanders joins in, opening with a brief quote of the “Pursuance” theme from Coltrane’s Love Supreme before launching into the stratosphere with his trademark overflowing technique. As Munoz delivers Sharrock-like ecstatic sounds, Ravi unveils a nice melodic line.
“Fatherhood” is a duet between Munoz and Shaffer, and is the weakest point of the album. It’s a pretty melody, but unfortunately it’s done in by gloopy electric piano and synth-string textures.
The CD finishes with the titanic blowout “Divine Radiance”. It seems to have a loose structure of solo features for 2 or 3 musicians linked by communal improvisation. This is the sort of instant composition that brings to mind Coltrane’s Ascension or Frank Lowe’s Black Beings. It features an incredibly intense duet for the bassists with subtle backing by Ali, and a duet between Sanders and Ravi where they both explore overflowing. Ali also gets a solo to highlight the fantastic energy that he’s poured into the whole album. Finally, toward the end, Munoz goes clear into Sonic Youth territory, bowing his guitar to mirror the bowing of the basses.
Amazed by the intensity of what they just played, one of the participants can be heard muttering at the end, “Woah...woah. Heh heh heh heh.”
Somewhere, John Coltrane was smiling.
Reviewed by: Jim Storch
Reviewed on: 2003-09-03