The Basement, September 12
This concert was rather like Ravi Coltrane’s career: slow to start; of growing interest; utterly enthralling. The opening pieces revealed little more than a well-knit band and the accepted virtuosity. But amid overly busy playing and emotionally opaque music the promise of more was already evident. It was there in the interaction between bassist Dezron Douglas, drummer Johnathan Blake and brilliant young pianist Glenn Zaleski as they left gaping rents in the music’s fabric on the latter’s first solo. It was there in Coltrane’s breadth of sound on his tenor saxophone even when he stood in a different postcode to the microphone.
Gradually the quartet’s internal dynamics began to emerge: the way the band pivoted around Blake; the way in the concert’s early stages the music continued to hold more fascination the more air the players invested in it, as on Coltrane’s moody Marilyn & Tammy.
From there the interest grew, with Zaleski crafting thrilling solos while using the rhythm section as an acrobat does a trampoline. There was Blake, chopping up the grooves like so much kindling, and building infernos beneath Coltrane, whose playing began to ignite.
Charlie Haden’s gorgeous ballad First Song featured Douglas’s only solo of the night: heartfelt, restrained and with a liquid flow of lines underpinned by an elegant sound. Coltrane’s re-entry on this marked the beginning of the end. If his ballad sound was wiry rather than lush it was a clue to the torrential power he was about to unleash as Blake hunted up a backbeat, and they took the song somewhere Haden had never imagined. The saxophone sound hardened further on Ralph Towner’s The Glide, and there was new-found density to Coltrane’s ideas. Then this son of a jazz immortal simply said, “Here’s a John Coltrane tune called Countdown,” and his tenor was soon boiling amid the maelstrom of cross-currents whipped up by Blake, Douglas and Zaleski. With all players peaking the music attained an unstoppable rolling quality like massive waves. It was worth the wait.