Let’s venture back to 1940, height of the jazz era. A dimly-lit club provides a haven to a crowded room, escaping the city hustle and bustle. Chatting in anticipation while sipping hand-crafted cocktails at small, intimate tables, the group grows silent as the light softens. A moment of sheer stillness and then a grand applause as the beloved musician enters the space.
These are the early moments of Ravi Coltrane’s performance at Dazzle last Thursday and Friday. Even before the gifted saxophonist began to play, his acclaimed reverence demanded the crowd’s attention. His band consisted of young, talented musicians, excited to take the stage and showcase their expertise. On piano, David Virelles consistently struck mellifluous concoctions. Bassist, Dezron Douglas provided a stable, voluminous backbone for the band and drummer, Jonathan Blake, jovially made the drums seem far easier than the complex combinations he played.
Coltrane began the night upon a nostalgic note, announcing the first tune as one of Thelonious Monk’s own. Ravi’s eyes remained closed as his body commanded the song, expressing the melody through his movements. The tune itself seemed discursive and dissonant at times, grasping the feel of authentic, early 20th century jazz. Virelles added some melodic cohesion on the keys, as Blake and Douglas displayed their obvious instrumental chemistry, energetically looking to each other as the song grooved along.
At some point within the tune, Coltrane stepped aside and offstage, allowing his band to, so to speak, ‘do their thing’ — and they did. Virelles’ fingers might as well have been matches as they set the keys ablaze, playing rapidly complex notes, far from those of any simple chord-progression. Douglas, played a reliably steady bassline for Virelles as the pace began to quicken and soon after, slow into a syncopated beat. After an impressive drum solo by Blake, Coltrane stepped back in with the group, leading to a recognizable meter and ending the tune on a unisonal staccato.
Coltrane’s next tune showcased his multi-instrumental talent as he changed from saxophone to clarinet to begin the song. The tune was called, ‘Quilly’s Blade,’ telling the story of a porcupine that falls in love with a blade of grass. Like most of Coltrane’s music, this song expressed an experience that placed the listener directly into each situation. Instead of merely hearing each song, the audience was a part of a scene carefully crafted by Coltrane and his band.
Coltrane confidently grasped his clarinet as the song began. As the clarinet was Coltrane’s first-learned instrument, his skill with this woodwind beauty was unmatched. Once again, Coltrane expressed his love for the music with his corporeal movements.
The following piano solo by Virelles carried a pleasing tone, accompanied by a similarly convoluted bassline and a solid drumbeat to influence the meter. Coltrane, again, stepped aside to showcase his band.
Throughout the performance, Coltrane allowed his band a sufficient amount of playing time, proving his leadership without dictation. He even began dancing as his band played on.
As Coltrane stepped back on stage, he showcased the clarinet, playing some impressively high-pitched octaves and really showing what the instrument could do. As the tune grew softer, it slowly decrescendoed to a close.
The next tune was announced by Coltrane as one of Billy Strayhorn’s, an esteemed composer, well-
known for his work with Duke Ellington and the tune, ‘Take The A Train.” Coltrane and Virelles displayed their musical chemistry as the song began with only the clarinet and piano. The romantic dance between these two instruments contributed to the amorous ambience that began to build within the room. Blake’s drums produced a whimsical, dreamy atmosphere as the pace quickened. The audience were viscerally seduced by the tune, one audience member slowly waving her hands above and placing them on her head in a blissful moment. As the song came to an end, another audience member let out a “yeah, baby,” expressing the thought on each audience member’s mind.
Coltrane played another tune with an impressive saxophone solo before he announced his last one, by a familiar name, John Coltrane. The audience grooved as the band very much so, ‘played the hell out of John Coltrane.’
Ravi Coltrane’s music may be impressive, but he remains humbled, stating that his pre-show prep consists of having a drink, eating some dinner and relying on intuition when it comes time for the big moment. As for his inspiration, he states that it can be pulled from any source including his children, other artists, and the “pursuit of possibility.” He is truly “thrilled and humbled” that he has been able to stay on the jazz scene for a long period of time, both leading bands and creating new, innovative music.
Although Ravi Coltrane has his own original sound to show his listeners, he is no stranger to working with the legends that came before him. He regarded his time touring for two months with the renowned, Elvin Jones, as “one of the greatest periods” of his life, also adding Jones’ reputation as a “road warrior.”
Ravi Coltrane proves that the future of jazz is a fruitful one, showing that artists such as himself are capable of forging new roads through a genre that has so long been regarded as mastered only by the greats.