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January 2012: Craig Ebner, Ravi Coltrane, Lucas Brown and Norman David

RJ Johnson By

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Craig Ebner Quartet

Moonstone Arts Center

January 13, 2012

Craig Ebner, a Philadelphia based guitarist best known for his work with organist Joey DeFrancesco, led his quartet through a brief yet powerful set at the Moonstone Arts Center in Center City Philadelphia. Now in its third year, the Moonstone Arts Center operates out of Robin's Bookstore in Center City and hosts jazz shows one or two nights per month. Many of the city's best musicians, including saxophonist Bobby Zankel, pianist Tom Lawton, and vibraphonist Behn Gillece have performed at Moonstone in the past.

Ebner's playing was informed by modern jazz guitarists such as Kurt Rosenwinkel and Mike Moreno. His tone was dark yet pronounced, and his blend of reverb with a slight delay added an intriguingly ethereal touch. Ebner's time on the road with DeFrancesco, from 1999-2002, has helped refine his playing with a thorough sense of bebop and hard-bop styles. Ebner also made use of a volume pedal to create dynamic swells and unique textures during his chordal playing. Ebner was joined by trumpeter John Swana, another legend in Philadelphia who has made the switch to an instrument known as the EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument), played much like a trumpet, but with the capabilities of a synthesizer. Swana used several effects racks to create unique tones, often blending new effects within individual songs as he reacted to the sound of the band. Bassist Justin Sekelewski and drummer Carl Moritz, both busy sidemen in Philadelphia, rounded out the group.

The set opened with a brooding arrangement of Wayne Shorter's "Fall," played in 7/4 after a textural intro featuring melodic interplay between Swana and Ebner. The band was able to create a hypnotic backdrop for each soloist, which seemed to fit the style of the tune perfectly. Next was the John Coltrane standard "Satellite," arranged with precise rhythmic hits on the melody. Hearing Swana play through the tune's complex chord changes combined with the effects used on his instrument was a very unique experience. Swana's sound was one of a kind, and he has mastered an instrument played by very few people.

"Satellite" was followed up by "Lush Life," a Billy Strayhorn ballad which featured a solo introduction by Ebner. What makes his style unique amongst the many accomplished guitar players residing in Philadelphia is that he seems to have absorbed a modern sound while retaining vocabulary that is firmly rooted in traditional jazz. His compositional skills were also on display for the set closer, an extended original piece influenced heavily by Indian classical music and Ebner's study of the sitar, "Khan-Chi." The piece shifted through several changes in meter and tempo and seemed to be largely through-composed. Ebner retuned his guitar in order to allow the lower strings of his guitar to act as constant droning bass tones, while leaving the higher strings available for melodic development. Swana created swirling textures by running his instrument through a thick blend of reverb and delay. The interplay in this group was very developed, and jazz audiences in Philadelphia hope to hear more from them in the future.

Ravi Coltrane Quintet

Annenberg Center

January 14, 2010

Tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane led his quintet through two sets at UPENN's Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Though he is the son of legendary saxophonist John Coltrane, Ravi has certainly proven his own musical abilities to be extremely advanced. His command of the saxophone was obvious as he played effortlessly in any range, displaying a huge vocabulary which can only emerge naturally from rigorous personal study.

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