The second set of tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane's mid-run Friday night show at the Village Vanguard was both an inspired performance of a cutting edge group, and also a tribute to the legacy of John Coltrane
The first tune, Wayne Shorter's "United," featured each member of the quartet, including Luis Perdomo on piano, E.J. Strickland on drums, and Drew Gress on the bass. Coltrane's introductory solo was framed against a loose backdrop, the rhythm section rumbling and barely suggesting the pulse. A patchwork of styles, Coltrane's sewed together segments of sharp angular modern jazz and cascading harmonic sheets with strands of bebop.
Perdomo steered the music into a relentless swing. His bold and fiery playing invited Strickland to set up rhythmic obstacles, which together they hurdled over, gathering momentum each time. Drew Gress left his post as anchor to play a mischievous and skirting solo, fleshed out with a magnetically warm and rich tone. It was Strickland’s solo, however, that set the tone of the performance. His meditative playing was both gentle and propulsive, and fireworks display at its peak settled the group into a joint aim: to match his sustained flow of intensity.
The next two tunes were Ravi Coltrane originals. “Word Order” began from chaos, as the band collectively improvised a disorienting collage. A pedal in the bass pulled the disparate parts into alignment, transmuting into a lackadaisical groove. “The 13th Floor” was a menacing and agitated trance. Its hypnotic state gave way to tightly wound intensity during Perdomo’s solo, which bubbled over with energy, fed by Strickland’s volatile feel, at once hard driving and yet restrained. Coltrane’s aggressive and fleet solo was nearly straining to match Perdomo’s electricity.
The mood abruptly switched gears with “Jagadishwar,” by Alice Coltrane, Ravi’s mother. Its harmonic and melodic simplicity, hymn-like and sentimental, dissolved into cacophonous, yearning free improvisation that recalled John Coltrane’s later music in the mid 1960s. The elder Coltrane reared his head again, as the group closed with a flashy version of “Giant Steps.”
Marked by stark contrasts and the influence of styles including hip hop, free jazz, and bebop, Ravi Coltrane’s performance was an exciting example of contemporary jazz looking forward while staying tied to the past.