James Lavelle’s Meltdown 2014 meets ‘Enlightenment’ (A Re-envisioning of John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’)


Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

James Lavelle’s Meltdown 2014 meets ‘Enlightenment’ was all about the three R’s – recognition, re-envisioning and rewarding – Recognition from Mr Lavelle, who enlisted the evening’s curator Paul Bradshaw by way of a thank you for his passionate documenting, reviewing and edification of UK/World Jazz music and artists via his groundbreaking ‘Straight No Chaser’ magazine, which he published and edited in the early nineties – A re-envisioning of John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’ by Mr Bradshaw who brought together a stellar line-up of UK based Jazz and World music purveyors to realise this vision at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall – Rewarding in that what we were treated to constituted a spiritually rewarding experience which paid full and proper homage and respect to the 50th anniversary of John Coltrane’s timeless album.


Paul Bradshaw (Curator of ‘Enlightenment’, Editor & Publisher for ‘Straight No Chaser’ and ‘Ancient to the Future’)

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Fittingly, it was Curator Paul Bradshaw who whetted our appetite for the wholesome musical offerings to follow. As a precursor or appetiser to the ‘Enlightenment’ main course, we were served up a delectable delight in the form of Set 1: ‘Deep Vibes,’ arranged by seasoned flautist Rowland Sutherland which encompassed three of nature’s elements – ‘Spirituality’, ‘Earth’ and ‘Cosmic Vibes’. Immediately we were introduced to the spiritual element as Mr Bradshaw exited the stage and the unmistakable, elongated form of a traditional Tibetan Horn came in to view, held aloft by one of the U.K.’s premier trumpet players Byron Wallen.


Byron Wallen (Tibetan Horn & Trumpet)

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Raising the impressively crafted Tibetan Horn skywards, Wallen sent a short, sharp salvo up into the ether as if asking for the spirit world’s blessing, before moving to centre stage so all in the auditorium could witness this rarely played instrument within the Western Hemisphere. After nearly three minutes holding the horn aloft, Mr Wallen smoothly transitioned to his more familiar trumpet to continue his emotive tribute to Bilal’s spirit. Written and performed by Byron, ‘Spirit of Bilal’ laid the perfect foundation for what lay ahead. With a solitary spotlight shining onto him in the darkness, the transcendental vibe was heightened still further.


Neil Charles (Double Bass)

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde


Byron Wallen (Tibetan Horn & Trumpet)

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Double Bass player Neil Charles then emerged from the shadows after six minutes to join the trumpet maestro onstage, gently, but purposefully plucking at the double bass strings, providing the perfect accompaniment as the duo performed the next composition ‘Battle’ together. This simple additional instrument added the yang to Byron Wallen’s ying. The two highly skilled musicians intuitively played off one another for the next three minutes bringing the tune to a peaceful conclusion.

As the pair melted back into the shadows three more first class musicians entered the limelight to replace them – Tori Handsley (Harp), Rowland Sutherland (Flutes) and Emi Watanabe (Japanese Dragon Flutes). Within just a few seconds of hearing the haunting flute notes of Emi Watanabe and Roland Sutherland, it was evident that we had now transitioned into the Zen like vibe of the Joe Henderson composed ‘Earth’, the second of nature’s elements to be represented during the ‘Deep Vibes’ set.


Emi Watanabe (Japanese Dragon Flute)

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde


Tori Handsley (Harp)

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Harpist Tori Handsley subtlely eased into a hypnotic groove, with her Alice Coltrane-esque caressing of her harp strings giving body to these most delicate of tunes. The trio continued to weave their fine musical silk thread throughout the length of the piece, bringing a sense of lightness and airiness to the Queen Elizabeth Hall. In keeping with the flow of the evening the artists meekly acknowledged the audiences appreciation before departing.


Rowland Sutherland (Musical Arranger & Flutes)

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Musical arranger and flautist par excellence Rowland Sutherland was soon to re-emerge with an even bigger posse of heavyweight musicians as the audience settled down to embrace ‘Cosmic Vibes’ the third and final element of nature to be portrayed.

So it was that keyboard and electronics wizard Pat Thomas, Orphy Robinson on Xylosynth, Rachel Musson on Saxophones and Flute, Neil Charles Double Bass, and Mark Mondesir on Drums joined Mr Sutherland on the expansive stage to pay a mini homage to the Prince of cosmic vibes, Sun Ra. The solitary strumming of the double bass strings by Neil Charles announced the first of the four tribute pieces they performed, the quirkily abstract ‘Afro Black,’ featuring a wholesome saxophone solo from Rachel Musson. The second tune, ‘Ancient Aethiopia’ had a distinct broken-beat oriental feel, with the quirkiness of Pat Thomas’ electronics providing the contrast.


Orphy Robinson (Xylosynth)

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

To round out this mini tribute to Sun Ra, who would have celebrated his one hundredth birthday this year, the mini ensemble got deep inside two of Sun Ra’s most cosmically- inspired compositions, ‘Strange Celestial Roads’ and ‘Friendly Galaxy.’ Both tunes giving the musicians a chance to warm up their musical chops prior to the main ‘Enlightenment’ set later that evening; especially Orphy Robinson who gave us a glimpse of things to come with an impressive Xylosynth solo. And so a most welcome musical aperitif, ‘Deep Vibes’ concluded, and did exactly what an aperitif should do – leave you hungry for more.

Set 2 – ‘Enlightenment’ – ‘A re-envisioning of John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’ was introduced, as was Set 1 by Curator Paul Bradshaw, who gave a more detailed explanation as to the inspiration and conception of the evening’s imminent interpretation: “A Love Supreme was conceived and recorded between the Autumn and December of 1964, so for me that’s the 50th anniversary of ‘A Love Supreme’. It’s an album that has travelled with me for the past four decades and I’ve never got tired of hearing it.” He then went on to state that the score for ‘Enlightenment’ was written by the aforementioned Rowland Sutherland, before adding, “Basically, we got a grant from the PRS Foundation for Rowland to be able to do that. And we took into account a lot of the interpretations that have been done of ‘A Love Supreme.’

We listened to John Coltrane’s one live performance of ‘A Love Supreme’ which was in Antibes, and I think that had quite a big impact on Rowland. Also Alice Coltrane of course had a huge impact on us in the concept for this piece because our aim with this piece was initially ‘Sacred Music, Secret Spaces’ and the aim was to connect with the spiritual and cultural traditions that not just reside globally but reside in our own inner cities. So it’s a devotional statement, it’s about the power of love, and I think in this troubled world that is something we need a lot more of.”


Ansuman Biswas – Melodic Indian Instruments

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Having received respectful applause for saying his piece, Mr Bradshaw proceeded to name check and welcome onto the stage each individual member of the ensemble before he took his leave. As the players took their respective places, the stage lights dimmed, with the exception of one spotlight slicing through the darkness onto the master of Indian percussion, Ansuman Biswas. For the next nine minutes all eyes within the auditorium were transfixed on Ansuman as he created a mystical aura around himself, seemingly reaching out to the spirit of John Coltrane to bless the ensembles musical offering.


Tunde Jegede (Kora), Mark Mondesir (Drums), Ansuman Biswas (Percussion)

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

The trance-like state was eventually broken by the even and measured baritone of Juwon Ogungbe reciting the initial lines of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme poem, which are harboured within the liner notes of his seminal 1964 long player. A minute or so later, a third shaft of light illuminated in-demand Kora player, Tunde Jegede. His subtle tweaking of the kora strings meshed neatly with the multiple indian percussion instruments his neighbour was playing. Juwon’s next poetic utterance was the cue for flautist and musical arranger Rowland Sutherland to integrate his snake charmer-esque tones as the tune built layer by layer, as the ensemble gradually awoke. The layers of this musical cake continued to build, firstly with Orphy Robinson on xylosynth, keenly followed by Batu drummers, Ade Egun, Crispin Robinson, Oli Savill and Dave Pattman, increasing the intensity and inevitably the amplification.


Background – Cleveland Watkiss (Voice), Juwon Ogungbe (Voice) Foreground – Steve Wiliamson (Tenor Saxophone), Shabaka Hutchings (Bass Clarinet)

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Cleveland Watkiss and Juwon Ogungbe integrated their rich, full-bodied vocals into the mix, chanting powerfully in Yoruba dialect. Three more minutes elapsed and with the musical steam train now getting up to speed MD Orphy Robinson decided to add more coal to the fire; standing behind his xylosynth he raised left-arm sharply, signalling the next gear change. Immediately pianist Nikki Yeoh was triggered into action, manically traversing the ebonies and ivories with her elastic fingers. Although situated alongside electronics specialist Pat Thomas on the perimeter of the vast QEH platform, Ms Yeoh definitely made her presence known bouncing up and down involuntary as if her stool was a space hopper.

Also sparked into motion were Neal Chambers (Double Bass) and drummer Mark Mondesir adding even more textured layers to the impressively endowed musical cake, with all except the woodwind section yet to add their unique flavour. That soon changed when Rowland Sutherland rose from his chair to lay down a flawless four-minute flute solo. The ensemble carried the pulsating rhythm for a few more minutes before twin turbo boosters in the form of Steve Williamson (Tenor Saxophone) and Shabaka Hutchings (Bass Clarinet) were unleashed on the audience, thrusting the tune forward instantaneously ; just-in-time for the lead into the familiar refrain of ‘A Love Supreme’.


Steve Williamson (Tenor Saxophone) and Shabaka Hutchings (Bass Clarinet)

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde


Steve Williamson (Tenor Saxophone)

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Once again Musical Director Orphy Robinson stepped onto the conductor’s plinth to orchestrate/initiate the next motion. As Mr Robinson stepped off the plinth, tenor saxophone supremo Mr Steve Williamson stood up and for the next four minutes expressed himself on the horn as only a man of his deep consciousness and innate ability can do; elevating the tune into a whole new dimension, bobbing and weaving like a middleweight boxer and squeezing every last drop of attitude from his instrument. The knowledgeable applause as he took his seat following his stupendous solo was more than deserved. A free-flowing piano solo from Nicky Yeoh provided the perfect bridge between Mr Williamson and his keenest and most promising of pupils, Shabaka Hutchings on Bass Clarinet. Within the first minute Shabaka was up on the balls of his toes bobbing and weaving in the manner of his fellow woodwind collaborator, letting the music infiltrate every fibre of his body and transmuting it through his uniquely configured black and silver bass clarinet. Midway through his mini-solo, the discreet nod of approval from master to pupil was evident to all.


Shabaka Hutchings (Bass Clarinet)

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

From then on the solo’s came thick and fast; Cleveland Whatkiss stepping from behind his podium to deliver one of his trademark virtuoso vocal displays, extracting absurdly abstract sound emissions from deep within his being, stirring the crowd into universal applause of disbelief as he snaked his way back to his starting position, raising his left arm, still clenching his microphone as acknowledgement. This was Orphy Robinson’s cue to brandish his orange tipped xylosynth/marimba sticks and pound out a solo which from the uninitiated’s viewpoint seemed wild and uncontrollable, but was in fact supremely measured and precise – A gift or talent that has been enhanced by years of constant and consistent practice.



Orphy Robinson (Xylosynth)

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Orphy’s black robe with patterned gold meshed centre trim, definitely gave off the air of a man of authority and experience. As this beautiful Rowland Sutherland arrangement continued, the Batu drummers maintained their metronomic and pulsating backbeat whilst the other musicians continued to take turns in the spotlight telling the musical narrative. Steve Williamson was afforded another opportunity to speak through his saxophone and he didn’t disappoint, beginning his solo in a calm controlled, straight-backed manner and ending it by creating jagged soundscapes, arcing backwards at an almost 90° angle, with nostrils flared and cheeks bellowed. The audience had little time to catch their breath before Mark Mondesir one of the U.K.’s if not the world’s premier exponents in the art of Jazz drumming, lay down the law according to Mark.


Steve Wiiliamson (Saxophone)

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

The Segway between Mr Mondesir and Mr Charles was as seamless as night turns to day. With the ensemble playing at a subdued level, the manipulation of the double bass by Charles could be heard crisp and clear as he bent his bow at right angles to the strings of his instrument, eking out minute audio nuances which coloured his solo. While Neil Charles played on, in full view of, yet strangely unnoticed, Orphy Robinson slowly progressed once more towards the conductor’s plinth, where he was to remain until the end, orchestrating the ensemble. His presence in front of his peers seemed to stimulate their playing even more, expanding and contracting his arms when necessary, or giving a permissive nod here or there. The tempo and pace was intensified or relaxed instantaneously, which was all interpreted visually by the stunning moving artistic light backdrops provided by the legendary Swiftly of Straight No Chaser notoriety.


Tunde Jegede (Kora) & Ansuman Biswas (Percussion)

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

And it was during one of these ‘relaxed’ periods during the tune, with the lavender coloured backdrop fitting the mood and Rowland Sutherland’s majestic flute singing like a Nightingale at dawn, complemented by the extraordinary and varied percussion instruments played by Ansuman Biswas. It had reached the point now where the audience were so entranced and stupefied by what they were witnessing that time and space had no longer become an issue in the midst of this busy metropolitan city called London. However, all good, in fact all blissful, deep, moving, inspirational, ethereal, skin tingling, and mind enhancing things must come to an end. And so it was to be with ‘Enlightenment’ – A re-envisioning of John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme.’


Rowland Sutherland (Musical Director & Flute)

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde


Background – Cleveland Watkiss & Juwon Ogungbe (Voice)
Foreground – Steve Williamson (Tenor Saxophone) & Shabaka Hutchings (Bass Clarinet)

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

But before this inspired masterpiece could be brought to a close, the last segment of John Coltrane’s original ‘ A Love Supreme’ was recited by Cleveland Watkiss in tandem with strong Yoruba vocal out-pourings from Juwon Ogungbe, before both vocalists combined to chant in the Yoruba dialect. Musical director Orphy Robinson, impressively attired in his School Masterly gown, became increasingly animated; flailing his arms above his head Moses like and bringing one arm down in a chopper like motion as if he were indeed parting the Red Sea. The whole ensemble was now fully ensconced, straining every sinew to create supremely impressive and expansive soundscapes, which infiltrated every nook and cranny within the Queen Elizabeth Hall.


The Jazz Warriors International Ensemble

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

As the musical director gradually brought his palms closer and closer together, the volume of the music subsided accordingly, until his palms did indeed meet and the musicians fell silent, signalling the end to our ‘Enlightenment’ for the evening. The ensemble stood as one and bowed multiple times in unison as they accepted their well earned plaudits and subsequently departed the stage with howls of appreciation ringing loudly in their ears. Having performed a matinee earlier in the day these consummate musicians had honed and refined their performance still further, to give a faultless performance as a fitting tribute to the 50th anniversary of John Coltrane’s musical prayer, ‘A Love Supreme’ as well as signing off Meltdown Festival 2014 in style.

Michael J Edwards

Essential Album: John Coltrane – A Love Supreme (1964)

Essential Website: http://www.thejazzwarriorsinternational.com/