RAVI COLTRANE QUARTET
WILLIAMSTOWN JAZZ FESTIVAL
Williams College, Williamstown, MA
Saturday, April 21, 2007
by Jeff Waggoner
If Coltrane brought them in, it was Ravi who kept them in the seats.
Ravi Coltrane has a marquee name, and it is well deserved. And not because of where he came from, but where he is now and who he is -- one of the finest jazz musicians on the scene today.
Coltrane was the headliner for the Williamstown Jazz Festival, held through much of the week of April 15 and culminating in the Coltrane concert on April 21.
The tenor saxophonist brought his main band to the Festival, which includes Drew Gress on bass, E.J. Strickland on drums and Luis Perdomo on piano -- an all star lineup.
The concert -- which was held in a 550 seat theater on the Williams College campus -- was sold out.
The festival director who came out to introduce the group asked that "no one leave" in the middle of the concert because people had been turned away. I was worried for a bit that I might be arrested if I went to the can.
Coltrane immediately won over the audience when he came out and said -- "If you gotta go, you gotta go."
A cheer of relief or of the possibility of relief went up.
But no one moved from the seat.
He's that kind of guy. Ravi Coltrane is study in grace and poise. Someone you find yourself wanting to listen to.
The quartet played a 6-7 song set -- straight through -- no break. The Festival had scheduled a jam at 10:30pm at a local restaurant and the audience had to be set free early.
What amazed me most about Coltranes playing -- and the group's playing -- was its discipline. Ravi, who has significant chops, doesn't play an extra note.
Everything has meaning -- everything is part of the story he is telling.
Some of the tunes he played were his own, another was by the trumpeter Ralph Alessi, a fine writer and one of Coltrane's musical comrades.
The most striking -- and beautiful -- piece the group played Saturday night was a song written by Alice Coltrane and played in her honor.
It was a very emotional song that broke midway into a cacophany of free squawking to find its way back into the shape of a heartbreaking ballad.
My ears aren't really acute enough to tell you who was the major influence on Ravi Coltrane, but I can tell you he is his own man. He has a distinct and, in my opinion, very valuable voice.
I get the impression that he is committed to playing with the best people he can find, and he isn't shy about letting his bandmates shine.
Strickland, in particular, is a huge talent. As someone who isn't overly fond of drum solos, I was surprised that Strickland had me on the edge of my seat.
The unit was very, very tight. Luis Perdomo was a joy. Gress very impressive.
But most impressive of all was Coltrane himself.
I am a fan now.
Jeff Waggoner has written book, CD and concert reviews for publications such as Metroland, Jazz Times, Blues Access and The New York Times. He lives in Nassau, is a student of jazz saxophone and guitar and can be frequently found at jazz, blues and folk concerts.