by Ron Netsky
When I interviewed Ravi Coltrane a few years ago he told me that, because he was an infant when his father died, he hardly knew him. He was, he said, just like all of the jazz saxophonists of his generation who listened to John Coltrane. But when you’re an excellent saxophonist and you’ve got those genes, and you open your Kilbourn Hall show with “I’m Old Fashioned,” comparisons are inevitable.
John Coltrane recorded the standard on his 1957 “Blue Trane” album. Ravi Coltrane’s rendition Thursday night was more abstract but every bit as soulful. Later in the set, when he played his own ballad, “The Change,” a more distinctive style emerged. Coltrane seemed to be speaking in musical sentences through his sax.
Coltrane was accompanied by Adam Rogers, a formidable guitarist who favored ethereal chords and high, ringing tone on solos. Bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Johnathan Blake provided strong support and strong solos.
Speaking of Coltrane, in his Hatch Hall concert, pianist Howard Levy used “Giant Steps” as a leitmotif for his entire set. His stream-of-conscious musical meanderings wandered all over the place --- from blues to barrelhouse, from stride to impressionistic --- but he kept coming back to “Giant Steps.” He was impressive at the piano but it didn’t stop there. During a couple of the tunes, Levy would hold his harmonica with one hand and accompany himself on the piano with the other.
Meeting Levy after the show, I had an opportunity to ask him about something I’ve wondered about since I saw him with Bela Fleck at the XRIJF two years ago. During a solo at that concert, he seemed to be playing counterpoint with himself on harmonica. Was that possible? Levy said yes, he does that. He said he puts his tongue in the middle and plays through both sides of his mouth. “I call it my political style,” says Levy.
Rudresh Mahanthappa’s GAMAK drew a large crowd for the late show at the Little Theatre. But I wish the group had been in Xerox Auditorium, because when they were going full-tilt (and they went full-tilt most of the time) it was too loud for the room.
Because of that, my favorite of their tunes was “Slendro,” which refers to a scale in Javanese gamelan music. Saxophonist Mahanthappa and guitarist David “Fuze” Fiuczynski played as if their instruments were gamelans, and drummer Dan Weiss played a startling solo consisting of a melody played on cymbals.
Throughout the set the group played music that could be described as double fusion. With Fiuczynski’s two-necked guitar and Rich Brown’s six-string bass, the group straddled the line between jazz and rock. And with Mahanthappa’s Indian roots at the core of his musical vision, the group also straddled the line between cultures.
I caught too little of Zoe Rahman at Christ Church. She was a striking presence, with the longest hair in music since Crystal Gayle. Her music was dream-like and colorful; you could even call it cinematic because her mixture of jazz and classical technique and compositional style was so wonderfully evocative.
Friday night I’m going to hear singer Gregory Porter at Kilbourn Hall. I’ll also check out singer Youn Sun Nah & guitarist Ulf Wakenius at the Lutheran Church and the eclectic group Phronesis at Christ Church.