Sacred Music – Sacred Spaces The Chapel, King’s College, London

Sacred Music – Sacred Spaces
(Enlightenment – Inspired by A Love Supreme by John Coltrane)

“It’s Midsummer’s night, it’s a celebration – generally a spiritual celebration of the changing of the seasons and it happened to coincide with presentation of a Love Supreme that we’ve been working on for the past two years. Then we got a grant for it at the beginning of the year (2012) and then a few people got behind us. The Sound of Music got behind us in terms of this presentation; PRS foundation provided the money for Rowland (Sutherland) to do the rewrite; and then this seemed like an auspicious day to do it! As to why this venue: Sacred Music – Sacred Spaces, this is one of the most lovely places that i’ve been in.”
Paul Bradshaw

Paul Bradshaw
Photo: Courtesy of Richard Kaby

The stage is set for a very special evening – The Chapel, King’s College, London

“I absorbed myself in the idea of getting a fragment of an idea of what John Coltrane was going through. This is the whole sentiment behind A Love Supreme and what he went through to produce it, what it meant to him. And so that’s what I try to evoke the piece.”

Rowland Sutherland

Photo: Courtesy of Alex Coley

Prior to the beginning of the recital and by way of introduction, former Straight No Chaser editor Paul Bradshaw gave us a quick insight as to why this special evening had come to pass:
“My name is Paul Bradshaw. I used to edit a magazine called Straight No Chaser. And I’m doing this gathering under Chaser Productions, “Sacred Music – Sacred Spaces.” It’s a concept which came about a couple of years ago with a friend of mine Jason Jules… We decided to do a presentation based on A Love Supreme, which was quite a risky thing to do. But we got a PRS foundation grant. And we gave that grant to a good friend of ours, master flautist Rowland Sutherland, to score the piece for a different time. In
When John Coltrane wrote A Love Supreme in 1964, it was an America that was pretty much in turmoil. John F. Kennedy had been assassinated; 200,000 people descended on Washington DC and to protest about civil rights. And later that year the ghettos ended up burning. And it was also within the shadow of the Vietnam War. In that climate he wrote a piece which has stayed with us for nearly 50 years and sounds as amazing now as it did when it was written. So what we have done, what Rowland has done, is kinda opened up the piece in the same way that maybe Alice Coltrane did and also Trane did in his music towards the end of his life. And we’ve incorporated instrumentation from different cultural and spiritual traditions, which I think also reflects our community care in Great Britain today. And basically in these times of strife, we are building A Love Supreme 2012 Style.”
Paul Bradshaw

Very rarely does reality equal or even surpass expectation. But on this auspicious occasion many people’s expectation including my own was surpassed and then some. Paul Bradshaw and Jason Jules in conjunction with flautist/arranger/composer Rowland Sutherland brought together some of the finest musicians in the UK to perform Mr Sutherland’s sublime score, “Enlightenment” – Inspired by A Love Supreme by John Coltrane.” Under the inspirational musical direction of vibes maestro Orphy Robinson, the musical offering got underway with the most delicate of intros. Ansuman Biswas (Indian Melodic Instruments) sat crossed legged on the floor besides Guinea’s finest kora player, Mosi Conde. Both artists softly teased, plucked and tapped their respective instruments, creating an immediate ethereal and spiritual ambience within this famous and historic chapel.

Ansuman Biswas (Melodic Indian Instruments) Richard Spaven (drums)
Photo: Courtesy of Alex Coley

4 min in and Juwon Ogunbe confidently uttered the first portion of his spiritual poetry narration:

“Love is a sacred word. Love is the name of God. The entire universe is created with love, by love and in love. Love is the beginning. Love is the continuation. Love is the end. Love for love sake is divine.”

“It is constructed. It is musical. It brings peace. It brings harmony. It brings joy to the lover and to the loved. But to flow it bears down on selflessness, egoism – the very same love brings destruction.”

Rowland Sutherland then floated his feather-light flute laden tones over the top of Ansuman Biswas’ and Mosi Conde’s metronomic yet delicate plucking of their respective instruments. Imagine a snake charmer charming a snake out of its basket; this was the vibe being created by Mr Sutherland – Except he was charming and mesmerising his captivated audience.

Rowland Sutherland
Photo: Courtesy of Richard Kaby

Eight and a half minutes in Juwon Ogunbe’s baritone vocal cut through the enchanting Indian melodies once again:
“…Love knows no business. Love knows no bargain Love never expects anything in return. Love knows only giving… Giving without even waiting for a thank you. Such a love is a ‘Supreme’ love.”

The world musicians add some spice to the evening
Photo: Courtesy of Richard Kaby

Ansuman on his waterphone; Mosi on his Kora and Rowland on his flute picked up where they left off, only this time they were now joined by their musical director Orphy Robinson on marimba subtly and sublimely creeping into the musical story.

Orphy Robinson (Musical Director)
Photo: Courtesy of Alex Coley

Bata drum players Crispin Robinson and Adé Egun increased the intensity, tempo and passion. An urgency and drive now took over the performance. As if by telepathy, the effervescent pianist Nikki Yeoh sparked into life, running her hands feverishly over the ebonies and ivories expanding the composition ever further.

Nikki Yeoh (Piano), Juwon Ogunbe (Vocal), Neil Charles (Bass), Pat Thomas (Electronics), Steve Williamson (Sax)
Photo: Courtesy of Richard Kaby

Just over a quarter of an hour in and the familiar refrain of John Coltrane’s Love Supreme loop, signalled a change of tempo as the piece segued effortlessly into its next movement. The brass and woodwind section were now in full effect – Steve Williamson on sax; Shabaka Hutchins on bass clarinet and Rowland Sutherland on flute.

Rowland Sutherland; Steve Williamson and Shabaka Hutchins
Photo: Courtesy of Richard Kaby

Step forward Mr Steve Williamson, the U.K.’s finest tenor sax player to deliver a 5 minute powerfully intense, abstract and undulating solo – a solo which fully warranted the warm and knowledgeable and worthy applause he received, highlighting how sorely he’d been missed on the jazz circuit. The reins were swiftly taken up by the technically gifted and intuitive pianist Nikki Yeoh who laid down an impassioned solo of her own.

Steve Williamson (Sax)
Photo: Courtesy of Richard Kaby

All cylinders were now firing – Richard Spaven, the engine room of the ensemble, kept up a driving yet measured rhythm on the skins alongside his tag-team buddy, the equally adept Neil Charles on contra-bass. Twenty-five minutes in and Orphy Robinson, in his capacity as musical director, authoritatively and enthusiastically signalled yet another change of gear – Shabaka Hutchins now got the chance to exercise his lungs on bass clarinet, bobbing and weaving as if slipping punches from a boxer. It was evident that Mr Hutchins was deep inside the music as he delivered a more staccato style solo.

Shabaka Hutchins (bass clarinet)
Photo: Courtesy of Richard Kaby

Then there was some more delightful interplay between Nikki Yeoh on piano; Neil Charles on contra-bass and Richard Spaven on drums. A quick salvo from the brass section heralded the return to the South Asia and West Africa as Ansuman Biswas and his cohorts Batu drummers Adé Egun and Crispin Robinson alongside Mosi Conde on Kora Harp unleashed an ear-gasmic and pro-longed cacophony of sound. With the secure back-up of drummer Richard Spaven, a seemingly feverish, overwhelming, driving and unstoppable cosmic energy and life force swirled around Gilbert Scott’s architectural splendour.

Ansuman Bisman (Multi-Percussive Instruments), Mosi Condu (Kora Harp), Crispen Robinson and Adé Egun (Batu drums)
Photo: Courtesy of Richard Kaby

Their amazing stint was only brought to an end when Orphy Robinson adorned in black and gold robes assumed his now familiar position as orchestrator, signalling the remainder of the ensemble to join in with some very assured hand and arm gestures. Things were now truly getting hot up and heated! Another full on and purposeful tenor saxophone solo from Steve Williamson gave way to another even more explosive yet controlled demonstration of marimba playing from The Don, Orphy Robinson. The speed of his playing was such that at one point it seemed as if he had eight hands and arms!

Orphy Robinson sizzles on Marimba
Photo: Courtesy of Richard Kaby

After approximately 45 min the quirky combination of Pat Thomas’ strained psychedelic sounds on Electronics coupled with Neil Charles’ deep and moody contra-bass emissions saw Rowland Sutherland’s composition take on a darker and more lugubrious tone. This heaviness was lifted by Rowland’s very own flute interjection. It pierced the gloominess like a bright ray of sunlight through the beautifully painted stained glass windows. One could envision a flock of doves being released to the heavens – new life, new hope!
Cue Juwon Ogunbe for some timely narration courtesy of spiritual quotes from Swami Satchidananda and John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme poem all interspersed with Yoruba song: “I will do all I can to be worthy of thee oh Lord. It has all to do with it. Thank you God!” (Yoruba Song) “Peace, there is none other. God is. It is so beautiful. Thank you God!” (Yoruba Song) “God is all. Help us to resolve our fears and weaknesses. In you ALL things are possible. (Yoruba Song) “Thank you God” (more intense Yoruba song.) The musical director then bought this passage of play to a gentle conclusion before the horn section expanded things once more.

Narrator/Vocal: Juwon Ogunbe
Photo: Courtesy of Alex Coley

Juwon continued: “We know. God made us so. Keep your eye on God. (Yoruba song) God is. He always was. He always will be! No matter what, it is God. He is gracious and merciful. It is most important that I know Thee. Words; sounds; speech; men; memories; thought; fears and emotions; time – All related – All rose from one.”
The movement then built and built quite splendidly in the form of a rousing crescendo! From the high pitched screeching and deep bass sounds Steve Williamson, Rowland Sutherland and Shabaka Hutchins managed to draw from their respective instruments to the wonderfully dextrous manipulation and soundscapes created by the world music players on their own musical tools.

Ansuman Biswas
Photo: Courtesy of Alex Coley

The narrator kept on flowing: “Blessed be his name. Thought waves, heatwaves – all vibration. All paths lead to God. Thank you God.” (Yoruba song) One thought can produce millions of vibrations and they all go back to God. Everything does. Thank you God!” (Yoruba song) “The universe has many wonders. God is all!” The audience were kept in a trancelike stupor created by the dreamy, ethereal musical web being spun by the hand-picked musicians.

Nikki Yeoh (piano), Neil Charles (contra-bass), Juwon Ogunbe (vocal) and Richard Spaven (drums)
Photo: Courtesy of Alex Coley

As the arrangement/composition neared its natural conclusion, the spiritual verses and ode to the most high narrated by Mr Ogunbe became more and more prevalent and potent. Each mini stanza was punctuated by Yoruba song and strong, powerful, meaningful, arresting music. Each musician being directed ever more earnestly by musical director Orphy Robinson

Musical Director, Orphy Robinson
Photo: Courtesy of Alex Coley

“His way it is so wonderful. Thoughts, deeds, vibrations all go back to God. He cleanses all. He is gracious and merciful. Thank you God!” (Yoruba song) “Glory be to God! God is so alive! God gives. God loves!” (Yoruba song)”…We are all one is his grace.”
“The fact that we do exist is acknowledge of Thee oh Lord! Thank you God.”(Yoruba song) “God will wash away all our tears.” (Yoruba song)
“Seek him everyday. In all ways seek God. Let us sing all songs to God to whom all praise is due. Praise God!” “No roads are easy ones, but they all lead back to God.” (Yoruba song) “We all share God. It is all with God. Obey the Lord. Blessed is Thee.”

“We are all for one thing, the will of God. Thank you God!” (Yoruba song)
“I have seen ungodly. There can be no greater. None can compare. Thank you God.” (Yoruba song)
“…It is time. Blessed be his name. Thank you God!” (Yoruba song)
“God breathes through us so completely. So gently we hardly feel it – yet it is our everything! Thank you God!” “… Nation, elegance, exultation – all from God.” (Yoruba song)

The audience show their appreciation for Musical Director, Orphy Robinson et al.
Photo: Courtesy of Alex Coley

And so to the climax. With arms open wide, Musical Director, Orphy Robinson stood in front of his charges and slowly brought the palms of his together. With every inch of his hands coming together the music gradually decreased until all that could be heard was the final, barely audible notes of Shabaka Hutchins bass clarinet and Rowland Sutherland’s flute drifting off into the ether.

Orphy Robinson, Musical Director
Photo: Courtesy of Alex Coley

Orphy Robinson and performed slow 180° turn, right arm raised high in air. Now facing his public he bowed his head and the recital was complete. Spontaneous applause echoed around King’s College Chapel. Mr Robinson half turned once more to face the musicians/artists who had kept us riveted for the past hour and 5 mins, making sure they got their due praise.

John Coltrane

What started out as Paul Bradshaw’s vision to see John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme or version there of performed in such a sacred setting on such a sacred day – the summer solstice – had become a reality. Thank the Lord for the dreamers of this world. It was a blessed evening indeed!
Michael J Edwards

Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards and Paul Bradshaw after a ‘Sacred’ Performance at The Chapel, King’s College, London

Essential Websites:
King’s College London
Rowland Sutherland