A Guitar Supreme: Giant Steps in Fusion Guitar
is a provocative record; what it provokes will have a lot to do with your preconceptions. The collection features several of the top electric guitarists in jazz--Mike Stern, Larry Coryell, Robben Ford, Frank Gambale and a number of others--trying their hand at songs associated with the late John Coltrane, anchored by a solid rhythm section of Alphonso Johnson, Larry Goldings and Tom Brechtlein. Like most tribute records, it is something of a mixed bag of tricks and treats. The playing is solid throughout, though the arrangements vary in effectiveness.
Tracks that I really like include Mike Stern's pretty version of "My Favorite Things" and Greg Howe's playing on "Mr. Syms." Larry Coryell's take of "Satellite" is fascinating, veering from a kind of heavy metal to passages of grace. Eric Johnson's "Resolution" is a track that impresses more each time I hear it; I was tempted at first to disregard his soloing as empty theatrics, but the depth of his playing here reveals itself with repeated listening.
Numbering among less successful tracks is the reading of "Crescent" featuring Steve Lukather. There's some interesting middle eastern influenced soloing, but it rides atop a rhythm track that seems more appropriate for a late-night talk show theme than a modal ballad. This points to a flaw recurrent on this session. While the very best tracks, for example Frank Gambale's "Naima," represent an adaptation of Coltrane's vision to jazz fusion, "Crescent" and some others treat the source material as fodder for fusion. Greg Howe's "Giant Steps" is probably more the latter than the former, yet its funked up arrangement somehow works.
There is a lot of stellar playing to delight guitar heads, but it will doubtless strike a lot of purists as irreverent (and not in that fun, Bart Simpson kind of way). I'm somewhat of both minds; when it works, it works and vice versa. What would John Coltrane think? I suspect he would be amused.