Jazz Feed

Ravi Coltrane Trio plays the Jazz Standard

by Nick Stubblefield

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The Jazz Standard is an ideal venue to hear jazz, thanks to its very dry acoustics and intimate confines. In the front row, you won’t hear artificial or natural reverb, and you won’t notice the amplification through the house PA, either. Instead, you’ll appreciate the warm, organic wooden resonance from the upright bass, the subtle, breathy vibrato from Coltrane’s tenor, and the extra sparkle from the ride cymbals.

Saxophone royalty Ravi Coltrane played the Jazz Standard this week, where he took on double duty playing melody and supporting harmonic fills. With the support from his rhythm section, he played a dynamic show that entranced, excited, and soothed.

There is something raw and bare-bones about a jazz saxophone trio. Without a keyboard or guitar to flesh out the chords and harmonic structure, the warm timbre of a tenor sax is more exposed to the listener. When the air passing through the instrument is more audible, the final sound is more humanlike, and in that the saxophonist can produce beautiful musical expression.

Coltrane’s trio got down to business straight away with an uptempo ditty that defied precise classification. There were elements of swing, funk, and bebop, but the groove of the tune just kept changing, which kept this listener engaged and guessing what might come next. It wasn’t “free jazz,” the brand his famous father sold, but that free-spirited, post-modern edge was present. It’s essential for improvisational musicians to stay communicative with each other, and Coltrane’s trio maintained a Vulcan mind-meld throughout the set — and some of the best use of body language I’ve seen in a group. At points, Ravi would even step off to the side to let his rhythm section shine, but would still face his bandmates, not the audience.

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"Africa Now!" at the Apollo Theater

by Steven Pisano

(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

DJ Black Coffee at Africa Now! at the Apollo TheaterThe sixth annual "Africa Now!" concert co-sponsored by the World Music Institute and the Apollo Theater was focused more on the electronic side of African music. The featured act in the first half brought together legendary drummer Tony Allen and techno wiz Jeff Mills, supported by keyboardist Jean-Philippe Dary. The Nigerian-born Allen is widely credited with establishing Afrobeat music back in the 1970s as part of Fela Kuti's band Africa '70. Paired with the Detroit-born Mills, the resulting set was a long improvisational groove that was at turns jazzy, Afrobeat, and techno - and always dreamy. A vibrant light show helped to engage the audience, since the musicians barely moved.

The second half of the show spotlighted the night's big draw, the internationally acclaimed DJ and record producer Black Coffee (Nkosinathi Innocent Maphumulo) from South Africa. The Apollo instantly changed from concert hall to dance club, with the entire house rising up from their seats and dancing. Basically it was house music with a South African flavor.

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"Soundtrack '63" at the Apollo Theater

by Steven Pisano

"Soundtrack '63" at the Apollo Theater

(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

On Saturday night, the Apollo Theater presented "Soundtrack '63," a production of Soul Science Lab based in Brooklyn. Using a rich gumbo of archive film footage, photographic slide shows, and live musical performances, the show explored black history in this country from the forced transport of slaves in the 18th century, through the Civil Rights movement of the Fifties and Sixties, to today's Black Lives Matter and "I Can't Breathe" protests.

Soul Science's creative director Chen Lo believes that it is vitally important to keep black history fresh in young people's minds according to the Ashanti principle of sankofa--"Seek the past to understand the present and build for the future." For Lo and musical director Asante Amin, this means remembering important landmarks in black history, and the best way to remember them is through music. A 13-musician orchestra and a quartet of knockout singers--Keisha Gumbs, Moses Gardner, Karyn Porter, and Matthew Thomas--kept the stage electric with first-rate music throughout the night.

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Snarky Puppy and David Crosby Play Carnegie Hall

by Nick Stubblefield

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It seems unconventional for the Brooklyn-based jazz collective Snarky Puppy to play at Carnegie Hall, but Snarky Puppy isn’t a conventional band. When I walked into Carnegie’s Stern Auditorium last week, an usher handed me a tie-dyed bandana embroidered with “The 60s: The Years that Changed America.” The night’s program was part of a concert series this year throughout New York that honors social justice and protest in America. With their history of frequent collaborations with artists from many musical and ethnic backgrounds, Snarky Puppy were the perfect hosts for an evening celebrating protest, peace, and unity.


Michael League, Snarky’s bandleader, chief composer, and bassist, stood front and center. The band, consisting of drums, a smorgasbord of auxiliary percussion, keyboards, guitar, and horns, managed to comfortably fill a stage mostly known for accommodating concert orchestras. The group’s musical style proudly defies classification. There were elements of bebop, Latin-American styles, and African-American gospel in the music, but Snarky’s purposeful blurring of musical boundaries is largely what defines the group’s sound. As the stylings and textures ebbed and flowed throughout their all-instrumental mini-set, there were ever-shifting variations in timbre that kept the music engaging. Multi-instrumentalist Justin Stanton alternated between a trumpet and a vintage Fender Rhodes, shredding equally skilled bebop-inspired jazz improvisations on each.

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