“The initial thing was just to have a fun time one night,” says Luther Hughes via telephone from his L.A.-area home. Hughes is speaking of his current group, the Cannonball-Coltrane Project. What began a few years ago as a one-off night performing with some friends in a tribute to jazz sax icons John Coltrane and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley became a series of recordings that made the national jazz charts. Hughes, a jazz bassist by trade, took inspiration for the Project from a 1959 recording called The Cannonball Adderley Quintet. “It was essentially the Miles Davis band without Miles,” says Hughes. Aside from their work together in Davis’s group, it was the only recording that Coltrane and Cannonball ever made together.
I hear more Cannon-ball than Coltrane in the Cannonball-Coltrane Project. Cannonball’s salad days were during the ’50s and ’60s. Post-Davis, Cannonball led his own sextet and drew pop and jazz listeners alike with his electrified funk-soul jazz recordings made with his brother, Nat. Coltrane’s phrasing and erratic energy are only suggested by the Project’s Glenn Cashman, but Bruce Babad on alto sax has nailed Cannonball’s flip spirit.
Hughes says the concept has been well received by audiences. He and the band have begun to craft new songs in the same vein as the source material set forth in ’59. “I gravitate toward taking some of the classics and putting my own spin on them,” he says. I comment that I hear more spin than homage. “I hope so,” he says. “Everybody in the band is writing more and getting better at it,” says Hughes, “and I want to do more festivals. The band is so good live. I’ll put this band up against any band at any festival, and we’ll not just hold our own, we’ll kick ass.”
CANNONBALL-COLTRANE PROJECT, “Jazz in the Park,” San Diego Museum of Art, Wednesday, March 5, 5:30 p.m. 619-232-7931.