John Coltrane looms as a towering influence for any tenor saxophonist in the jazz tradition.
Teodross Avery has known this to be true from the beginning of his musical journey, more than 30 years ago — though he recently discovered how powerful it can be to bring Coltrane’s music back down to human scale. This is the core strategy on Avery’s cathartic new tribute, After the Rain: A Night For Coltrane, which will be released on the Tompkins Square label on May 10.
Recorded live in Avery’s hometown, Oakland, Calif., almost exactly a year ago, the album conveys a feeling of urgent communion and soulful expedition. “I wanted to make sure that I balanced between songs that were important both to John Coltrane’s music aesthetic and also to real connoisseurs of his music,” Avery writes in an album note. “I researched interviews, books, I spoke to music scholars, and I spoke to musicians who knew him personally.”
The album’s six tracks span the first two or three phases of Coltrane’s career as a leader, reaching as far back as his 1957 debut on Prestige. There’s also an ecstatic “Afro Blue,” in the manner of Live at Birdland; and a climactic version of “Pursuance” from A Love Supreme.
The opening track — which like the title track comes from Africa/Brass, Coltrane’s 1961 Impulse! debut — is “Blues Minor.” It appears here in an exclusive premiere.
Avery is an alumnus of the Berklee College of Music and a former member of the Young Lion cohort, signed to GRP/Impulse! at age 19. He has always been a charismatic player with an earthy, booming sound; he has also been a sought-after collaborator, for everyone from Betty Carter to Lauryn Hill.
His relatively low profile as a recording artist in recent years is partly a byproduct of his focus: a few years ago he received a PhD in Jazz Studies from the University of Southern California, and he now teaches at California State University Dominguez Hills, in Los Angeles. His previous release was a duo collaboration with drummer Marvin “Bugalu” Smith called Post Modern Trap Music (Katalyst Entertainment), released in 2017.
For After the Rain, Avery regrouped with pianist Adam Schulman, bassist Jeff Chambers and drummer Darrell Green. All are based in the Bay Area, with varying degrees of history together. (Chambers, for one, played the album-release show for Avery’s 1996 album My Generation.)
In his liner notes for the album, Ben Ratliff observes the way that Avery’s band captures something intense yet almost relaxed in this music — a function of experience, and shifting expectation. “Coltrane remains a model for doing as much as possible in anyone’s fast-track years: playing, learning, processing information,” he writes. “Later in one’s life, possibly, he becomes a model for a bigger and deeper way of doing things.”
After the Rain: A Night For Coltrane will be released on May 10 on Tompkins Square.