With original artwork depicting great jazz virtuosos gracing the walls, between set wine with the musicians, and superior acoustics, NYC's Jazz Gallery is a cozy venue that caters to a hip clientele. As such, Ravi Coltrane could not have chosen a better “space” for the live premiere of his new label. With eager anticipation, I took the train to NYC in order to attend concerts on succesive nights featuring The Michael McGinnis Quintet, The Ralph Alessi Quintet and The Ravi Coltrane RKM Collective. The McGinnis Quintet, “Between Green”, impressed with its tight original compositions that reflected an upbeat outlook and a focused group sound. Their identifiable “sound” was largely the result of the exceptional communication and blending of McGinnis’ soprano sax with Shane Endsley’s trumpet. Endsley played with a soft rich dead center tone that lent itself well to his approach which included a liberal sprinkling of plunger work. He is clearly a young player that has begun to solidify his own unique voice. McGinnis, a maturing saxophonist, displayed tight quick runs, both solo and in tandem with Endsley.
Pieces from the group’s RKM disk Tangents were given a more open and airy treatment while remaining true to the original song structure. “Between Green’s” songs are catchy and make you feel good. Within the concert framework, the fresh precise CD arrangements translated well and allowed for extended solo opportunities for both bassist David Ambrosio and pianist Andy Milne. The evening also featured new music, such as the 4 part “Suite Angst”, a second set highlight that McGinnis wrote “instead of throwing rocks through the windows” of establishments that pissed him off. With this cathartic work, the group’s trademark soprano sax/trumpet meld beautifully closed out the fourth section. The night ended with “Departure”, a slow modalesque piece that segued into “MD”, a tribute to drummer Mark Dodge, who was an integral part of defining the group’s clean crisp sound. “Between Green’s” young musicians enjoyed playing their well-crafted music and their joy was contagious. I woke up happy the next morning eagerly anticipating the “Ralph Alessi Quintet”.
I was not to be disappointed. Whereas McGinnis’ quintet was “Between Green”, trumpeter Alessi’s was more “blue” with mahogany overtones that extended through compositions that effected pensive warm moods. Reprising his role on piano was Andy Milne who was joined by Drew Gress on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Clarinetist Don Byron, presaging the remainder of the evening, evidenced impeccable timing as he seemingly arrived off the street, midway through the first tune to connect with the quartet on cue.
Resplendent in floppy straw derby, Byron added a random variable. At one point, a cell phone rang in the front row; “doo-doo, doo-doo-doo”, prompting Byron to pick up the beat and riff off the phone’s line, integrating it into the piece. Alessi is an exceptional technician who gave the impression that he was playing a reed instrument. He was able to bend, twist and draw out notes through throat techniques imparting exquisite nuances to several pieces. Both Alessi and Byron showed themselves to be masters of tone and coloration giving many of the tunes a European feel. There was a richness to the music in no small part due to Milne’s touch, who when given the opportunity, presented as an imaginative stylist. Milne made up for guitarist David Gilmore’s absence and further added to the lush nature of Alessi’s compositions. This was truly challenging music that remained very accessible to the audience as it took the SRO crowd through a variety of altered states. The evening ended with an instrumental version of “I am a Cowboy in the Boat of Ra”. Without Julie Patton’s vocal, Byron picked up the slack with an extended solo to then join Alessi in a duet to end the show. Alessi’s works were texturally rich and the audience wrapped the music around itself as if each composition was a luxurious robe. This is global mood music for the 21st Century and I awoke on Saturday ready to experience the RKM Collective with Ravi himself.