The controversy about whether eclectic melding of various ethnic influences can be called 'jazz' is, I concluded, a moot point. Artistic expression is--and should be--in constant flux...
Take the Col'Train Conrad Herwig, Brian Lynch, Danilo Perez and Ravi Coltrane Mellon Jazz at the Kimmel Center May 14, 2005 The virtues of melding different musical forms vs. adhering to the rigorous jazz tradition were thoughts that weighed heavily on my mind as I attended a very well produced evening of "Latin jazz based on John Coltrane's compositions and featuring Trane's son, Ravian outstanding musician in his own right, one who is seeking his own voice but who is quite interested in his father's monumental contribution to jazz and music in general. The concert, held in the Perelman Theater, the more intimate chamber music venue of the Kimmel Center, was the last in a series that ran throughout the 2004-2005 concert season. Collectively entitled "Take the Col'train, the events featured a variety of Latin takes on the Coltrane legacy. To wrap up the season, Danilo Perez, the Artistic Advisor, brought in Ravi Coltrane as a special guest artist with a group featuring Brian Lynch, trumpet, and Conrad Herwig, trombone, and also including a rhythm section- Luis Perdomo*, piano, Ruben Rodriquez, bass, Robby Ameen, drums, and Pedro Martinez, percussion- as well as the baritone saxophonist and flautist, Mario Rivera. This was a group that Lynch and Herwig originally assembled for a Grammy-nominated 1998 recording entitled The Latin Side of John Coltrane. Ravi Coltrane was introduced at a brief post-intermission discussion of Latin jazz, and then performed with the group. The first half of the evening was highlighted by outstanding solo work by Brian and Conrad, in Latin-style arrangements of (John) Coltrane's A Love Supreme and "Blue Trane, followed by "Flamenco Sketches (from Miles Davis' historic album, Kind of Blue ), and concluding with "Miles' Ode. Herwig and Lynch are in the upper percentiles of technique and sonority on their instruments and have a firm handle on Latin styles, helped enormously by their superb rhythm section. Mario Rivera also proved to be remarkable, both on baritone sax and, later, flute. Rivera, a calm and poised "elder statesman, possesses transcendent agility on both instruments.
One unfortunate problem in the first set was that the volume controls on the microphones had been pre-adjusted for a radio taping by WRTI, which somehow left the piano and baritone sax almost inaudible. This problem was corrected by the second set. Rivera and the pianist, Edsel Gomez, are each outstanding musicians in their own right, and it was disturbing not to hear them well at first. It seems to me that if there has to be a choice, the live audience rather than radio taping ought to get the preference for the best sound. After all, the folks in the seats not only pay admission; they arrange their evening well in advance for this purpose, which radio listeners typically do not. (Among the listeners in attendance was Cousin Mary, a beloved member of the Coltrane family, who has been an important inspiration in the Philadelphia jazz scene.) However, Herwig's deeply felt apology was well received, the sound system was re-configured, and the music won the day.
Following the post-intermission discussion, which I'll get to in a moment, Ravi joined the group. Danilo Perez took over the piano spot for a performance of "El Optimista. Perez'style is heavily influenced by salsa music and seemed a bit gruff at times. Ravi, on soprano sax, seemed a bit nervous at first, perhaps a bit out of his element, but when Perdomo came back to the piano for "Lonnie's Lament, from Trane's album, Crescent, his soloing on tenor sax, along with Rivera's flute, made for some subtle and beautiful phrasing, which was reinforced by alternate solos by Herwig, Lynch, Perdomo, and the percussionists. Stellar performances of "Naima and "Impressions, the famous Coltrane originals, concluded the evening in a terrific, in-synch, energized manner.
The improvised panel discussion by the performers centered first around Ravi's musical connection to his father. He reiterated what he has said many times before, that he is primarily seeking his own voice based upon his love for and commitment to the music rather than to follow in his father's footsteps. There ensued talk about whether Latin music could ever be called "jazz as such. The consensus was that music is music, and cannot be pigeonholed or categorized. Herwig pointed out that John Coltrane himself came to prefer the phrase "twentieth century improvised music to "jazz, having been a prime mover in incorporating diverse world musical elements. Of course, jazz has incorporated many forms and styles from its very inception in New Orleans. Jazz is an eclectic art form, its only consistent iconographic features being its roots in the blues, gospel, and Creole genres. I thought that the guys made their collective argument more pointedly in their playing, which fused "mainstream jazz and various Latin influences most satisfactorily, than in their verbiage.
The controversy about whether eclectic melding of various ethnic influences can be called "jazz is, I concluded, a moot point. Artistic expression is- and should be- in constant flux as it seeks new ways to convey its "message. The question is whether the musicians can achieve an ensemble effect which tells a significant story and moves their audience. Experimentation and the eclectic mixing of forms are good things. On the whole, this particular evening of music was a great success, despite the difficulties that arose. Certainly, I, for one, being a listener who tends towards a mainstream groove, came away feeling that I was now going to tune in on more of the newer ideas that are finding their place in contemporary jazz. The group did a great job of converting me to their approach.
* ERRATA: When this article was first published, Edsel Gomez was listed as the pianist. Gomez is the regular pianist with the group and was listed in the program notes, but I have since learned that Mr. Podermo substituted for Gomez on this particular occasion. My apologies to both Messrs. Podermon and Gomez. VLS
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