(L-R) Theo Saunders, Chuck Manning, Henry Franklin, Ramon Banda
The return of the Henry Franklin Quartet on July 8 to the Saville Theatre on the campus of San Diego City College as a part of Jazz 88’s continuing concert series represented a welcome treatise of hardcore jazz values – all delivered with a post ‘Trane expertise that few are able to match. Many are called, as the saying goes, but few are chosen.
Each member of Franklin’s group emerges from a wellspring of experience, which includes associations with Freddie Hubbard, Willie Bobo, Pharoah Sanders, Rashied Ali, Poncho Sanchez, Joey Defrancesco, Vinny Golia and Bobby Bradford.
The wisdom of such cumulative experience was evident from the very first bar of Monk’s “Eronel,” when pianist Theo Saunders delivered a smoking essay on jazz piano history, followed by tenor saxophonist Chuck Manning’s balance of running the changes and R&B eruption – especially when the drums of Ramon Banda thickened the atmosphere with fireworks.
It was on the group’s heady incantation of “Lonnie’s Lament,” that the evening reached its apex. This classic Coltrane piece is very hard to put your own stamp upon – but from the moment Franklin began his a cappella prologue of pensive, yearning double-stops and strumming – yielding to deep bowing on the rubato reading of the melody – a reverie potent enough to mesmerize was set. The subsequent move into doubletime found Saunders racing through blue modes and deft quartal harmony while Manning twisted toward hoarse screams in wicked exchange with Banda’s vituperative barrage.
The ‘Trane connection continued with a spine-tingling look into “Soul Eyes,” where Manning’s burnished purring locked into Franklin’s sonorous whole-notes over Banda’s whispered brushstrokes and Saunders’ lush piano harmonies.
There are still few things more affective than a group of musicians who can traffic in the spirit of John Coltrane’s music while avoiding the trap of its letter – which is why folks like the Henry Franklin Quartet are essential components to the continued health and development of the art form.
Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.