Review: Ravi Coltrane Quartet at The Sage




At the Sage, Gateshead, Andy Hamilton savours the sound of Ravi Coltrane's band and enjoys a well-conceived musical programme, despite overly pumped-up sound levels

As one reviewer wittily commented, Ravi Coltrane (pictured right by Brian Payne) has chromaticism in his chromosomes – born in 1965 to John and Alice Coltrane, he was only two when his father died.

Like Coltrane Senior, he plays tenor and soprano saxophone, on this one-off UK gig on 15 July adding sopranino saxophone on Charlie Parker's Segment and Billy Strayhorn's Lush Life.

Coltrane – it seems strange to use that surname in a live review – favoured the more open feel of a quartet with guitar instead of piano, with long-time collaborators Scott Colley on bass and Adam Rogers on electric guitar, and Nate Smith on drums. (Earlier this year, at Leeds and elsewhere, he worked with another regular group, David Virelles on keyboards, Dezron Douglas on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums.)

Ravi's well-conceived programmes seem to follow the excellent pattern of originals and jazz compositions, in this case by Charlie Haden, Ornette Coleman and Charlie Parker.

The first set began with Out Of The Void by Scott Colley, followed by Ornette's Birdfood. The band negotiated complex gear-changes on the latter with supreme confidence, culminating in a wonderful guitar and arco bass dialogue at ad lib tempo. There followed a Ravi Coltrane original, then First Song by Charlie Haden, with a fine bass solo by Colley that highlighted the contrasts with the composer's deep "song of the earth" style. Colley is a more schooled player than Haden, very effective and simpatico, though not as memorably melodic – but that's to compare him with one of the greatest jazz voices on bass. The set concluded with Parker's Segment – to echo the Ornette composition, this was food for the original Bird.

The second set featured Ravi's The 13th Floor, Lush Life and Phyrigia by Adam Rogers. Rogers' style reminds me of the work of Ben Monder, and uses a quite pure acoustic tone with restrained reverb. Rogers used to lead a fusion band, but now works in the acoustic jazz style of influences Pat Martino, George Benson and Wes Montgomery. He aims at clear and clean exposition of ideas – though in one interview he commented that "There are many guitarists who don’t play so cleanly that I love, and sometimes I aspire to play anti-technically". His technical proficiency is obvious, but is there a distinctive voice? A critical view would say that expressiveness is being filtered out or flattened – but his playing on Phyrigia showed what he was capable of.

Unfortunately by this point in the programme the guys at the sound-desk had pumped up the volume to absurd levels – it was always unnecessarily high, and as Lee Konitz would have pointed out, in a venue of this size, a purely acoustic gig, with amps for bass and guitar, is best. Today that is unlikely to happen, sadly.

The leader's playing was very effective without being totally memorable – perhaps, again, to compare him with the highest level of jazz improvisers. Interestingly, his sound was most distinctive on sopranino sax. The star of the show, for me, was drummer Nathaniel "Nate" Smith. Explosive, reflective, and – except for his slightly monotonous work on the ballad First Song – consistently excellent. Despite my criticisms, this was a gig to savour.


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