Thursday, September 22, 2016

Ravi Coltrane: No second-generation jinx here in saxophonist's return visit to the Jazz Kitchen

Ravi Coltrane played the Jazz Kitchen Wednesday.
Since his last Indy Jazz Fest engagement, Ravi Coltrane has crossed the half-century threshold. Time not only heals all wounds, as the adage has it; it also helps put a monumental inheritance in perspective. I have no idea if Coltrane has old wounds in need of healing, but it's a certainty that distance from his father's heyday is useful in revealing his artistry to a public that is in part attracted to both his names.

John Coltrane had a fondness for improvising over modes, and Ravi displayed that as well Wednesday in the second set of his quartet gig at the Jazz Kitchen in front of a full house.

But the manner (less legato stream-of-consciousness) and the tone are different, particularly when Ravi picks up the soprano saxophone. No one can escape the fresh life John Coltrane brought to the soprano more than 50 years ago. The revelation can be summed up by John's playing of the title song on "My Favorite Things," which showed that the soprano can sound like a world-music instrument: hearty and shawmlike, especially in ornamentation.

For his second selection Wednesday, Coltrane turned from tenor to soprano. There was a long pause as everyone riffled through the sheet music for what the quartet eventually played, so it would have been nice to be given a title after all that suspense. Oh well. It was a pleasure to hear the leader underline the full range of the instrument, just as Ravi does when he plays the tenor. Fans doubtless noticed his well-supported fondness for the lower instrument's deepest register.

There's been one personnel change since Coltrane's 2013 appearance here. Orrin Evans now occupies the piano chair. A chameleon player, he can at one point sound like Thelonious Monk, at another more in the neighborhood of Hank Jones or Tommy Flanagan. He always seemed to have a manner suited to the situation at hand. In the one announced piece of the second set, Charlie Haden's "First Song," Evans shifted in his solo from a more straightforward interpretation of the lovely tune to a hushed episode of delicately voiced chords.

That set up a dramatic shift to a final pumped-up treatment of the tune, drawing heavy lifting from all four players. Coltrane put a deft cap on the performance by setting lots of sustained trilling against Johnathan Blake's long roll on the tom-tom. Blake, by the way, sounded much more nuanced and flexible than I remember him being three years ago.

As for the bassist, who seemed to be playing on a plateau of pure joy, there were two wonderful solos. His bold tone, picked up perfectly by the sound system, was well applied to a parade of fresh ideas on the (unannounced) fun, upbeat number preceding the "First Song" finale. Appropriate as it is for a bassist to get a showcase on this attractive ballad by a bassist to whom Coltrane paid tribute in his introduction, Douglas didn't lay down anything perfunctory. He played as if he owned the piece, providing a pivot for that marvelous Evans solo and the final rave-up mentioned above.

No longer merely his own man, Ravi Coltrane has become the 21st-century Coltrane worth knowing on his own terms.

[Photo by Mark Sheldon]