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April 2018

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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