RAVI COLTRANE QUARTET
ALBANY RIVERFRONT JAZZ FESTIVAL
September 11, 2010
by Jeff Nania
I could hear the sound of Ravi Coltrane's tenor saxophone as I made the walk from my car to the amphitheater where the jazz fest was being held. I hurried up and got there, and almost immediately recognized the first tune – something called “Nothing Like You,” which I had first heard years ago on an album called “Sorcerer” by the second great Miles Davis Quintet with drummer Tony Williams, bassist Ron Carter, saxophonist Wayne Shorter and pianist Herbie Hancock. The tune kind of sticks out to me because it is the only track on the “Sorcerer” album that has any vocals on it. The track was also recorded on a separate date from the rest of the music on the album. It is somewhat of an oddity of jazz lore. A piece of music that has its own little story to go with it. Maybe that is why Ravi Coltrane chose to start his set off with it. Maybe it's just the fact that the tune is an upbeat, hard-bopping, swingin' tune that lent itself perfectly to the perfect day that mother nature had made for us festival-goers. Highs in the mid 70's, clear skies, and sunshine.
The first tune had a heavy groove, and the sunshine was also beating down heavily. Once the quartet got to the second tune the breeze began to blow ever so lightly, and the music imitated this airy feeling.
The second piece was called “Prelude” and it was an original of Coltrane's. It began more lightly, and slowly than the first tune, starting out with just bass and sax for the first couple of bars. Also unlike the first tune it never made its way to a full on swing groove. It instead reminded me of a Jackson Pollock painting with splatters, and splashes of color especially coming from the drums. Instead of a normal jazz swing pattern the drummer played colors and textures with his cymbals, and seemed to really emphasize space. Coltrane's tenor saxophone playing was quick, and intense with a hard edged sound.
Ravi Coltrane's father is of course the late great heavy weight champion of the tenor saxophone, John Coltrane. John Coltrane was known for his sweet tenor sound, and quick melodic lines in the 1950's, and his screeches, and more angular, but still quick lines on tenor and soprano saxophones in the 1960's. Both father and son had powerfully intense stream of conscious styles of playing, but Ravi's sound is more harsh, and biting than his father's sweet, yet full tone.
Ravi Coltrane's quartet was rounded out by EJ Strickland on the drums, Drew Gress on the bass, and Louis Pernomo at the piano. The musicians were all heavyweights, and there was a distinct feeling that this was “hardcore” jazz.
Coltrane's compositional style was such that the melodies were commonly doubled by himself and one other member of the group. In his tune “Prelude,” he doubled the melody with the right hand of the piano. In another Coltrane original called “Between Lines,” he doubled the melody with the tenor sax and bass, but maintained the airy compositional style. Toward the end of the melody there was a definite sense of a groove emerging, and the piano took a solo. Instead of just passing off to another soloist, the piano began to lock up on a melody with the bass at the end of his solo, and then Coltrane also locked up on the melody, and they finished the tune off like that. The free and airy portions of Ravi Coltrane's tunes conjured parts of “Alabama,” and “A Love Supreme” - both tunes of his father's, and yet he did not actually cover any of his father's tunes at the festival. He did however play a tune that was written by his mother, Alice Coltrane which was called “Javanese Shore” from her 2004 album called “Translinear Light.”
Great saxophonists are a staple of jazz music, and the same is true of Albany's Riverfront Jazz fest. In just the past five years names like Branford Marsalis, Joshua Redman, Joe Lovano and Ravi Coltrane have graced the stage, as well as local saxophone heavyweights Eric Walentowicz, and Keith Pray.
Sure enough, when I asked people why they came to the jazz fest
the overwhelming majority said it was to see Ravi Coltrane. For some people it was more personal than others. Jeremy Gold is a 24 year old saxophonist from Niskayuna who said “I'm here because I love jazz music. I'm really here for Ravi Coltrane. I think conceptually I'm really influenced by his particular type of jazz.” Jeremy wasn't the only local musician there. I also spotted pianist Rob Lindquist, saxophonist Brian Patneaude, guitarist George Muscatello, and many others. There were also well known jazz photographers, and writers like Rudy Lu, Andrzej Pilarczyk, and J Hunter – all of whom frequently contribute to www.albanyjazz.com.
As soon as the Ravi Coltrane quartet was finished, I walked off to get a beer, and I heard an announcement coming from the stage that there would be a moment of silence to pay respects to all those who had died in the attacks of 9/11/01 – exactly nine years earlier. there was a moment that seemed to stand still, and you could tell that everyone was jogging through their memories of where they were, and what they saw and heard on that day. Then a recording of the national anthem was played, and I heard a man yell out “turn that shit up!” After that the whole group of people there recited the pledge of allegiance, and it seemed like everyone actually remembered it. It was one of those moments when it was apparent that we really did all have something in common. We were all Americans in that moment. Albany's Riverfront jazz fest is always in early September, but it is not always on the anniversary of 9/11, and although we were all there to celebrate jazz music, we were also there to remember.
JEFF NANIA is currently enrolled at the University at Albany majoring in journalism and minoring in music. He has contributed to the student run paper Albany Student Press and the university-sanctioned electronic magazine UAlbany EZine. His research as assistant to university professor/author/musician Bob Gluck has contributed to Gluck's book about Anthony Braxton and Richard Teitelbaum. Nania is also a musician currently playing with groups such as Nautilus, and The Chronicles.