Ravi Coltrane Live in Montreal and New York City

Dave Kaufman BY

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Ravi Coltrane continues to evolve as an artist of remarkable depth and breadth as reflected in the diversity of contexts in which he engages. Coltrane was featured in three different musical settings at the recent (2017) Montreal International Jazz Festival Invitation Series. All concerts were held at the Centre de Creativite Gesu, an intimate concert hall that seats close to 500 people and offers outstanding acoustics and excellent site lines. The sold out concerts were were given an extremely enthusiastic reception. On the first evening (July 6), Coltrane performed in duo with excellent Cuban pianist David Virelles. The two have played together on numerous occasions in recent years both as a duo and with other musicians. They have a remarkable telepathy and deftly explored the inside/outside continuum.

The second night of the series (July 7) featured Coltrane's working quartet including Dezron Douglas on bass, drummer E.J. Strickland and guitarist Adam Rogers. This was the most freewheeling and improvisational of the three nights. As Mark Sullivan noted in his review, "this is a quartet with terrific chemistry." Each musician was given liberal opportunity to distinctly contribute both as part of the collective and as a soloist. At points, Ravi stepped off the stage and let the trio cut loose for an extended period of time and they were just fantastic. Guitarist Adam Rogers acquitted himself brilliantly with the rhythm section stoking the fire. Much beloved pianist/composer Geri Allen died suddenly just a few days before the festival began. Several artists who appeared at the fest (e.g. Charles Lloyd, Dave Douglas) performed moving tributes to her.

Ravi Coltrane did likewise, playing an Allen composition, "Swamini," that was written as a tribute to Alice Coltrane, Ravi's late mother. This was also performed on the third concert of the invitation series which featured a sextet called the Void. The group included the same rhythm section (Douglas and Strickland), added Glenn Zaleski on piano and Jason Palmer and Robin Eubanks on trumpet and trombone respectively. This evening was just a little more orchestrated than the previous evening, but still provided musicians ample space to solo and to collectively improvise. Eubanks was featured to excellent effect on his own composition, the "Sum of All Parts." The series concluded with a brilliant performance of John Coltrane's "Africa" (from Africa Brass) that highlighted E.J. Strickland's Elvin Jones-inspired volcanic drumming and a splendid dialogue with Ravi Coltrane.

Ravi Coltrane's father, John Coltrane, is arguably the most celebrated and revered artist in jazz history. However, his mother Alice Coltrane was also a compelling and innovative artist in her own right. Her music fused modal and free jazz with Eastern sounds, particularly Indian devotional music. Alice also included a range of instruments such as harp and Wurlitzer organ that were not commonly used in a jazz context. Her significant musical contributions were never fully recognized during her lifetime. Alice Coltrane passed away in 2007 and Ravi Coltrane has performed several concerts celebrating the life and music of his mother since that time. Recently (July 18 & 19, 2017), Ravi performed a two night (four sold out concerts) tribute billed as "Universal Consciousness: Melodic Meditations of Alice Coltrane" at the Jazz Gallery in New York City.

I was fortunate to catch the second of two nights. The assembled group of stellar musicians included three percussionists, notably Marcus Gilmore and Eric McPherson on drums as well as Cuban percussionist Roman Diaz. Rashaan Carter on bass completed the rhythm section. The group also featured David Virelles on piano and Wurlitzer organ and Brandee Younger playing harp. Alto saxophonist Roman Filiu guested a couple of numbers. The concert was both reverential and a joyous celebration of Alice Coltrane. The music drew on a selection of Alice Coltrane's recording from deeply spiritual/meditative Indian-themed music such as Rama Rama to more raucous excursions that featured the thunderous percussion and Virelles fiercely rocking Wurlitzer which sometimes sounded like Jon Lord in early '70s Deep Purple. There have been only a handful of jazz harp players through the years (eg., Dorothy Ashby, Alice Coltrane and contemporary artist, Zeena Parkins) and they have each made an indelible contribution to the music. Brandee Younger is a tremendously talented young harp player who was classically trained and strongly influenced by her predecessors, notably Coltrane and Ashby. She has played with Ravi Coltrane on several occasions in the past. Younger is a masterful harp player and is equally adept as a sensitive accompanist or as a soloist. She was the featured soloist on two of the evening's selections and they were among the most moving moments of the evening—simply breathtakingly beautiful.

The concert was a magnificent and often transcendent tribute to an as of yet unacknowledged master.
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