April 22, 2000
Sunship Records SR 99002
When Robin Williams and a chorus of high-kicking dancers dressed as Mounties were demanding that the U.S. "Blame Canada" during the Oscar telecast, little did insular American realize that the Great White North could be censured for more than its bland welcome of second rank American film crews.
The truth is that like such Canadian comics as Mike Myers and Jim Carrey who make it big without little nationalist fanfare because they seem more American than the Yanks, some Canadian players have scored in the jazz business because their talent surpasses those born south of the 49th parallel.
Besides such obvious figures as Oscar Peterson, Maynard Ferguson and Paul Bley, there's a hearty contingent of more "outside" performers. In fact, the two outsiders represented in this hell-bent-for-leather quartet seem to be related to Dr. Frankenstein as well. They've distilled the essence of John Coltrane's classic quartet and come up with a CD that's as powerful as it is derivative.
Again despite appearances — and on an American label to boot — it's time to expose the fact that drummer Kiermyer, although a New York resident for more than a decade was actually born in Montreal, while saxophonist Stuart, described as Jamaican-born, has, in fact lived most of his life in Toronto. The backgrounds of pianist Esposito and bassist Ephron aren't noted, but even if they're "real" Americans, their association here makes them fellow travellers at the very least.
In all seriousness, SANCTIFICATION is a fascinating session because it sounds like a great, lost Coltrane record. With its one word song titles and bulky severity the CD seems to take its clues from that time after A Love Supreme, when the Coltrane group would play non-stop in sort of a white-hot frenzy for hours at a time.
Actually Kiermyer is an even more focused drummer than Elvin Jones was in the classic Coltrane group, as you can tell listening to his solo on the title track. There his work seems to start at an elevated fever pitch and keep building.
Stuart matches him ever step of the way, with Colranesque cadences and long, long lines. Coltrane isn't his only influence, however. There are times on "Illumination", for example, where his buzzsaw explosions actually resemble the work of Archie Shepp.
Like Jimmy Garrison in the Trane quartet, Ephron stay in the background, while it's up to Esposito, in the McCoy Tyner role, to supply the light swing and quite momentum on tunes like "Invitation".
It would probably take a Coltrane scholar to figure out exactly which of these seven blowouts resemble which parts of the master saxophonist's compositions. But that's the triumph and tragedy of this session.
Unlike some of the mealy-mouthed younger players who have been wrapped in the Coltrane mantle, while only approximately the concentration the man brought to jazz, Kiermyer and crew produce a sound with the same volcanic fervor. Unfortunately it so resembles Trane's that you wonder when Kiermyer and Stuart themselves will come to the fore.
One clue might come with another Sunship CD, AUSPICIOUS BLAZING SUN, released simultaneously with this one. It features Kiermyer's drums interacting with Tibetan Buddhist chants, performed by vocalist Umdze Lodro Samphel and other monk-musicians on traditional horns and cymbals. Far removed from "jazz" —and mesmerizing in its way — it shows that he has more than one cymbal in his trap set.
So the decision on SANCTIFICATION must be mixed. Obsessive Coltranites who must hear everything connected with someone dubbed The Last Giant, will be interested, as will anyone who appreciates this sort of balls-against-the-wall style. Still, it would seem for the true Kiermyer to emerge he must wean himself from the saxophonist's influence before he disappears into it, like an actor who begins to think he is the role he plays.
The only thing certain when observing this heart-felt session is that no listening jazzer would dare tell Kiermyer and Stuart to go back where they came from.
Track listing: 1. Sanctification 2. Aspiration 3. Purification 4. Invocation 5. Illumination 6. Compassion 7. Dedication
Personnel: Michael Stuart (tenor saxophone); John Esposito (piano); Fima Ephron (bass); Franklin Kiermyer (drums)