Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ravi Coltrane makes Indianapolis debut at Indy Jazz Fest

Playing with a young heart underlined by the inevitability of being known as The Son, Ravi Coltrane made his probable local debut Wednesday night at a couple of Indy Jazz Fest sets at the Jazz Kitchen.

Ravi Coltrane (photo by Mark Sheldon)
To my mind, he has long since established his independence as a musician from the gigantic eminence of his father, John Coltrane, and the smaller aura that surrounds his pianist mother, Alice Coltrane. He sure doesn't sound like an orphan. And people are ready to receive the 48-year-old as a mature musician, even in places that are new to him, allowing for the fact that some of the patronage is attracted by his famous names (his given name being, of course, a tribute to Ravi Shankar).

He has some of his father's stamina as a performer, displaying it torrentially in the first number of the second set, Ralph Alessi's "Klepto." That was among several offerings on tenor sax, his main instrument; turning to soprano for a new original, he evinced a penetrating sound, with an English-horn coloration, and a fondness for phrases with a wide compass.

Then it was back to the tenor for the rest of the set, ending with one of his dad's classics, energetically deconstructed. At the time, I thought it was "Moment's Notice." Once I got home, it seems like it could have been "Countdown." (Authoritative opinions welcome!)

Coltrane brought to the gig his compatible, sometimes explosive current quartet: pianist David Virelles, bassist Dezron Douglas, and drummer Johnathan Blake. Blake made a hit with the crowd, but he seemed to me a little too insistent an accompanist, burying Virelles' solo on ""Klepto," for instance. He has touches of John Coltrane's drummer, Elvin Jones, spreading the rhythm around, coloring his patterns with a heavy wash of snare drum.

The quartet was the soul of unity in Ralph Tower's "The Glide," with its short, thumping figure serving as a motto that gave off teasing hints of Miles Davis' "Jean Pierre."  Coltrane delivered on that tease in the coda by quoting what is purportedly the French playground song that piqued his dad's ex-employer's interest late in the trumpeter's career.

A Charlie Haden song written in 1975 for Alice Coltrane, "For Turiya," put the boisterous audience into an almost meditative hush. Not surprisingly, it offered a huge showcase for the bassist, and Douglas displayed a fat, resonant tone that evoked Haden. Blake contributed some of his  most imaginative accompaniment here, and Virelles got into some intriguing harmonic thickets in his extended solo. The leader settled mainly for being the one to enunciate the theme — like a dutiful son, but also his own man.

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