Cover for Trio Crescent CD

New release — Trio Crescent: Celebrating Coltrane

Marcus Roberts on Trio Crescent

We have been performing John Coltrane’s landmark suite, Crescent, for many years. Coltrane contributed immensely to the jazz language, and not just for the tenor saxophone. Our new CD, released 50 years after Coltrane’s death in 1967, is a natural extension of Trane’s brilliant innovations and contributions to jazz. I think of the original Crescent and Trio Crescent as a part of a continuum. T.S. Eliot in his poem ‘Burnt Norton’wrote “Time present and time past, are both perhaps present in time future”. This is our goal as a trio – the seamless merging of past and present to ensure the future relevance of this great music.

On this CD, we include the original Crescent suite in its entirety plus our version of “Traneing In”. This music is dignified and solemn, not lighthearted or fast and chaotic. Both Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk influenced Trane’s approach to composing, arranging, and thematic improvisation by way of the blues. Our own trio conception and group improvisational style is deeply entrenched in both Monk’s way of syncopating rhythms and Coltrane’s earthy sophisticated way of playing melodies.

Crescent features some of Coltrane’s most lyrical and beautifully arranged compositions. It is an excellent example of the perfect balance that Coltrane found between composition, and individual and group improvisation. The concept of using the ground rules of jazz to unlock the imagination and group freedom is one reason why our trio loves Coltrane’s music.

Our version begins with Jason swinging out on drums and my solo on “Crescent” swings tenaciously. “Crescent” describes the universe with realism mixed with hope and optimism. In a 1966 interview, Coltrane said that he wanted his music to be a “force for good” and I feel the same way. “Wise One” is a very deeply spiritual piece; the emotion builds very gradually to the end. The last statement of the melody reminds me of the power felt at the end of a great sermon. “Bessie’s Blues” is the only song in the suite that is written in a major key. It’s a great example of how playing the blues is an antidote to feeling the blues. In contrast, “Lonnie’s Lament” expresses the deepest pain associated with great loss. It’s followed by “The Drum Thing”, which in the original recording begins and ends with a duet between Coltrane and Elvin Jones. Our version begins and ends with a duet between the drums and piano, with Rodney playing an ostinato figure (a repeated A-note) on the bass, almost giving it the feeling of a chant.

Rodney Jordan on Trio Crescent:

To prepare for this session, I spent time listening to the original Crescent recording and all of the different layers of the music. There’s so much happening that it’s hard to focus on just the bass. This music is group oriented, so the role and function of the bass is always spiritual and connected with the piano and the drums. I studied all of the suite’s melodies to gain a deeper understanding of Coltrane’s compositional process. I studied the richness and beauty of Jimmy Garrison’s tone on the bass, note by note, to understand how he achieved the depth of emotional feeling that I heard in his playing. In that way, I was able to apply everything that I have worked to develop in my own sound over the years to express these emotions in my own style.

During my bass solo on “Lonnie’s Lament”, I incorporated Jimmy Garrison’s use of double stops (playing two strings simultaneously), and expanded that by using triple and quadruple stops. I also used some ideas from the blues guitarist, Robert Johnson to add more soul and texture to my solo.

In the rhythm section, we bassists are usually walking bass lines or playing grooves. In our trio, we use space and more long notes to create syncopation and, in this recording, to effectively communicate the powerful feeling of this music. When I play this suite, I feel a connection with a Higher Power.

The bass and drums in any group have a very special relationship. Playing with Jason is a wonderful experience. He’s an old soul, and you always hear all of the history of jazz when he plays. But more than his incredible technique is his ability and commitment to making the best decision for every musical situation. That decision might be to play only on one drum, or to not play at all. In the tradition of all great jazz musicians, we all strive to listen to each other and make the best musical decisions every moment on the bandstand.

Jason Marsalis on Trio Crescent:

Being able to play this entire suite without a horn is one of the special qualities of our version. We added “Traneing In” to this recording since that song often concluded our live performances of Crescent. When I think of Elvin Jones’ drum style, I think of the momentum created by waves on the beach. Waves rise and fall in a fluid motion; and Elvin’s swing and momentum would push the pulse of the music forward and he landed wherever that momentum took him.

One challenge we had with “Bessie’s Blues” was finding a way to sound like “us” over this simple blues form. During the piano solo, Marcus infused the deep roots and call-and-response nature of gospel music with technical phrases that are reminiscent of Coltrane. At the end of every chorus of my drum solo, we played the McCoy Tyner off-beat riff that was presented during the melody. This helped build the momentum and rhythmic excitement of my the solo.

During “The Drum Thing”, I used mallets to create a mellow mood. I noticed that Marcus played the melody using the pedal to sustain harmonies in a way that’s not possible on a saxophone. During the drum solo, I wanted to explore different ways of using space, rhythmic themes, and orchestration concepts. I used the mallets to produce a quiet but consistent tambour. Crescent is the kind of suite where you don’t need to cover up the music with a lot of unnecessary notes. It’s about playing less, using less, and realizing that’s enough.