PREVIEW: Enlightenment – In the Spirit of John Coltrane (Union Chapel, 1st July)

The Enlightenment Ensemble at Meltdown 2014
Photo credit: Roger Thomas 

'Enlightenment – In the Spirit of John Coltrane,' curated by Paul Bradshaw, made its first appearance at performances in summer 2014, and was a major success with the audience and critically. Ahead of a performance at Union Chapel on July 1st, Paul Bradshaw considers how the project has evolved. He writes:

Enlightenment – In the Spirit of John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’ returns to the Union Chapel in Islington on July 1st 2016. As the project’s curator I can’t help but be filled with anticipation.  No single performance is the same – it travels with energy on the night. Enlightenment is alternatively meditative and fiercely majestic. It's come a long way since it was first performed in the spiritually charged atmosphere of the Chapel in Kings College, London on the evening of the summer solstice in 2014.

As with ‘A Love Supreme’ - the iconic inspirational source of Enlightenment – master flautist Rowland Sutherland has created an original suite of music that evolves over four movements. It involves 15 musicians and engages with a several global spiritual traditions. As a founding member of the original Jazz Warriors and a leading light in today’s Warriors International, the Ensemble’s musical director, Orphy Robinson, believes, “As specific endeavour, Enlightenment is an extension of the spirit of Chicago’s AACM or the Black Artist Group or Tribe in LA but it’s also deeply rooted in our own experiences. There is both a political and spiritual dimension to what Rowland has written. And each time we perform it the journey is different. In my view - in terms of a homage to Coltrane - there is no equivalent anywhere in the world.”

The Enlightenment Ensemble at the Union Chapel
Photo credit: Nadjib Lefleurier

The Black Top duo of Orphy Robinson and Pat Thomas are a consistently radicalising force within the Ensemble. As Ensemble MD Orphy Robinson both conducts and explores the piece on his Xylosynth while Pat Thomas’ travels the spaceways. His unique electronic explorations during one performance prompted BBC6 Music DJ Gilles Peterson to declare, “It’s all about Pat Thomas!”.

Over the years I’ve witnessed Adé Egun Crispin Robinson's initiation into the world of Santeria in Cuba and seen him return to South London with the only set of consecrated bata drums in the UK. During Enlightenment, he and his fellow drummers sing praises to the Orishas of the West African Yoruba religion of Ifa while trading rhythms with Hindu master musician/percussionist and modern-day mystic, Ansuman Biswas.

Despite using words like global and spiritual to describe Enlightenment, its roots of are deep within the Tradition.  The dynamic foundation of suite is provided by the fluid undulating power of Mark Mondesir on trap drums and muscular contra-bass of Yaron Stavi – who you may know from his work with Nigel Kennedy, Gilad Atzmon or The Blockheads. Nikki Yeoh – who recently shared the piano stool with Chick Corea at the Barbican - holds down the seat at the Steinway. The Ensemble frontline for July 1st promises something different. The ethereal flute phrases of Rowland Sutherland are joined by the deep sound of Ensemble newcomer Fayyaz Virgi on trombone while the omnipresent creative force that is Shabaka Hutchings  - Comet Is Coming and Sons Of Kemet – weighs in on tenor saxophone & bass clarinet.

While Enlightenment takes flight upon the words of Alice Coltrane’s guru, Sri Swami Satchidananda Saraswati, the inclusion of John Coltrane’s written invocation to God, that accompanied the original LP, proved most controversial when it was delivered to two sold out audiences in the  QEH during Meltdown on the Southbank. However, by the time Enlightenment touched down at the Union Chapel, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ‘A Love Supreme’ recording sessions, those words, sung and recited in English and Yoruba by Cleveland Watkiss and Juwon Ogungbe took on new power. But that’s the nature of this music. Of course, there’s the score – the engine that drives the composition – but there’s also the spaces in between, the energy zones of pure improvisation that also take us onto another plane.

In the words of its composer, Rowland Sutherland, “Enlightenment is a potent suite of music that is reflective of our time and of the world we live in today. As musicians, everyone in the Ensemble hails from - or has roots in - different parts of the globe. The Ensemble embodies a range of spiritual beliefs and practices. The mission is to follow in the footsteps of those musicians who have opened the pathways and, like John and Alice Coltrane, send out a healing message of Elegance, Elation, Exaltation and Supreme Love into a turbulent and deeply troubled world. On the night, whether you are in the Ensemble or in the audience, it’s all about the live experience, it’s about being there, in that moment.”

LINKS: Preview of first performance of Enlightenment – In the Spirit of John Coltrane
Review from December 2014


  1. We much preferred their bop to their spiritual ragas last time round, but it will be interesting to hear how the project has evolved, especially in the climate created by Kamasi's Epic and Mitchell's Invocation.

  2. Greetings to The Noise It Makes... yes, it'll be interesting to see how it drops this time around.... just about to post your raga-free edit of the bootleg Soundcloud you posted... it's the only recording of the matinee set out there... and it sounds pretty TUFF! to me... cheers!