Review: In ‘Chasing Trane,’ Where’s the Joy of Sax?
John ScheinfeldAPRIL 13, 2017
John Coltrane in John Scheinfeld’s documentary. Abramorama
“Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary” portrays the legendary saxophonist as a tirelessly forward-thinking artist. (His music, the philosopher Cornel West says in the film, was more of a thermostat than a thermometer.) But as a biographical movie, “Chasing Trane” sticks to a conventional, dully informative format. Its ideal venue is a Coltrane tribute event or a classroom.
The director, John Scheinfeld (“The U.S. vs. John Lennon”), has amassed a wide array of Mr. Coltrane’s collaborators, friends, influences and chroniclers (including Ben Ratliff, formerly of The New York Times). But for every talking head with serious musical insight, like Wynton Marsalis, we get another like Bill Clinton — a jazz fan, but probably mostly present because he was too prominent to cut.
The film shows other signs of injudicious editing. “We were there for a reason, which was to create beautiful music,” says the pianist McCoy Tyner of playing with the John Coltrane Quartet, adding with a laugh, “I use the word ‘beautiful’ because I can’t think of a better word.” Carlos Santana and John Densmore, the Doors’ drummer, offer fawning platitudes.
More productive, this film includes Mr. Coltrane’s performances, along with home movies, family interviews and the musician’s own words, read by Denzel Washington. Occasionally it delves into musical analysis, discussing how spirituality and events (the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, a 1966 visit to Nagasaki) affected Mr. Coltrane’s compositions, style and shows.
But while the recordings are wall-to-wall, this somewhat busy documentary rarely accords time for simply listening.
Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary