Wednesday, 14 November 2012
“He’s one of the most important and influential musicians alive today,” words you might think appropriate for the son of one of the true giants of the saxophone. Though they were in fact used by Ravi Coltrane to describe his cousin – über-producer/beat-maker/conceptualist Stephen ‘Flying Lotus’ Ellison (here to play London’s Troxy on Friday) – who had dropped by to catch Trane Jr at Ronnie Scott’s. Ellison’s presence was wholly apt too from the perspective of what both his aunt Alice, and in turn his uncle John, were always striving to expand and explore new horizons. Ravi too wears the mantle of his father’s legacy with such ease and grace, not weighed down by his own or anyone else’s expectations. Thus if Ellison’s cosmic electronica continues aunt Alice’s mind expanding, spiritually-charged works then Ravi’s rich reimagining of his father’s legacy delves deeper into that inner world of harmonic space and metronomic time-stretching. For an hour or so Ronnie Scott’s was just about the hippest place to be on the planet; FlyLo sitting stage-right beaming at his cousin and his band tearing it up with hearty good humour and deadly intent.
Coltrane’s quartet are tight – both personally and musically – casually reminding themselves of the music from a sheaf of charts, but soon immersed eyes-shut in their own private inner versions of the music. Pianist David Virelles – also at last year’s LJF with Steve Coleman – was the perfect linear foil to Ravi’s vertiginous solo sojourns, finding salty sweet chords, adding a sour edge to the tenorist’s pungent ideas. Bassist Dezron Douglas was also outstanding, his sound a highly cultured blend of Charlie Haden’s sparing but spot-on note choices, and Jimmy Garrison’s dark and deep groove power. Drummer Johnathan Blake was the wild card in this tough and tender trio, his playing in a constant state of flux. First working his two ride cymbals and hi-hat with little additional percussive adornment; he built the entire set to a swooshing, swinging climax. But it was the undeniable and closely proximate presence of legendary beat-maker Flying Lotus, sitting just a few feet from him that sparked a curious change of tack – as Blake turned on some snapping, robotically precise breaks of his own on the appropriately titled, Ralph Alessi-penned, ‘Transition’. Ellison laughed in wry acknowledgement of the gesture.
Such good-humoured finesse from this superlative band hit even greater highs when all three lifted their leader, corralling his ideas and spurring them on further still as each sax solo bobbed and weaved. The set itself was a mix of old and new material – Monk’s ‘Skippy’ providing a suitably off-kilter starting point. From there the band drew on Ravi’s recent Spirit Fiction album, with its mercurial mix of sinewy melodies and subtle, shifting rhythms. Concluding the first set with a raptly received ‘Countdown’, one of his father’s many knotty mathematical puzzles, here given a suitably post-Glasper, post-Lehman working over, it begged the question did Trane invent math-jazz? Certainly Nicolas Slonimsky’s groundbreaking theories – that also inspired Frank Zappa and many others – underpinned the likes of ‘Giant Steps’, ‘Countdown’ and ‘Satellite’. Yet it’s to Ravi Coltrane’s credit that he sidesteps cliché and confounds expectations, wrapping up any high-minded concepts in his glowing tenor tone, and a vortex of heavy rhythms, all dispatched with vigour, fearlessly carrying his father’s legacy into a new century and beyond.
– Mike Flynn
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