Ravi Coltrane at Dazzle Restaurant and Lounge

Douglas Groothuis By

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Ravi Coltrane
Dazzle Restaurant and Lounge
Denver, CO
September 26, 2014

The Ravi Coltrane quartet performed before a packed crowd at Denver's premier jazz club, Dazzle Restaurant and Lounge on September 26, 20014 at 9:00 PM. Having seen Mr. Coltrane perform there a few years ago, I eager awaited this concert, wondering if I would see the same band. The quartet was still comprised of saxophone, drums, bass, and piano, but it sported a new bass player Dezron Douglas and an extraordinary drummer Kush Abadey. David Virelles, a master of space and soloing, remained on piano.

Mr. Coltrane told me after the gig that he has been touring with this band for two and a half years and that they were ready to go into the studio to record an album in a few months. He said, "This band is something else," with a sense of amazement. He was right. Given the transcendently beautiful concert just performed, I said, "You need to record a live album!" This performance was not recorded, but it left a deep and happy mark on my soul as well deeply impressing a young friend who had never been to a jazz concert. I told him that he had been initiated at the highest possible level of achievement.

The opening number was "Epistrophy" by Thelonious Monk. Like many of Monks quirky tunes, this is difficult to play. John Coltrane played it with Monk and his son gave his own interpretation of it, which stayed true to the melody while exploring deeply its basic themes. Mr. Coltrane took a long and adventurous solo on tenor, as he did on all the numbers of this enchanting evening. Few living saxophonists so confidently and deftly explore the contours of jazz than Ravi Coltrane. In fact, I can think of no other.

"Epistrophy" clocked in at about thirty minutes (without a second of boredom or wasted time), with each player given room to stretch out brilliantly. While some long numbers are tainted by self-indulgence, this superb band never approached as each player dug deep into their respective wells of talent. Perhaps the bass player only took one or two solos, but supported the band perfectly. The man can swing and has huge ears.

Mr. Coltrane played the soprano saxophone on another long and satisfying piece written by one of his musical associates. He showed as much poise and power as the other numbers on tenor saxophone, which John Coltrane rightly called "the power horn." The most balladic number of the evening was one written by the late Charlie Haden, who recorded with John and Alice Coltrane as well as Ravi. The band fell into this grove as masterfully as they had with the more lively pieces.

The nearly two-hour set concluded with a sly and superb interpretation of "Giant Steps," originally recorded by John Coltrane in his noteworthy 1960 album of the same name. As with "Epistrophy," the band coyly played with the melody before launching into it full throttle, but not without several gear changes.

One of the outstanding features of this quartet was their dexterity in extemporaneously changing the tempo of the pieces played. These acrobatics were not pre-set, but emerged from the big ears of the band. They took changes—and succeeded every time. This reminded me of The Miles Davis Quintet of 1965-68, featuring Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, and Wayne Shorter. That is no small feat.

Ravi Coltrane came up through the ranks of jazz rather slowly. Unlike, say, Sonny Rollins, who was recording and wowing audiences in his late teens, Ravi, like his father, took a longer and more gradual climb before reaching the heights of virtuosity as a player and bandleader. The wait was worth it, and the ascent is not over.

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