This year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. An album of sheer, undiluted avant-garde spiritualism it is rightly regarded as one of the epochal jazz recordings of all time. As he approaches his very own 50th birthday, you do sense that much of Ravi Coltrane’s artistic life may have been spent trying to emerge from the shadow cast by his father’s – and his mother, the celebrated jazz pianist and composer Alice Coltrane’s – huge cultural legacy.
And whilst over the past three decades Ravi Coltrane has carved out a more than respectable career for himself as a jazz saxophonist – most notably as a sideman, though also as a band leader – it is perhaps only over the past few years that he has started to fully emerge as an artist in his very own right.
His debut album as a leader on the famous Blue Note Records label, 2012’s Spirit Fiction, drew universal acclaim for its harmonic fusion of startling postbop originals and revered covers. And the following year his current band – the Cuban pianist David Virelles, and Coltrane’s fellow Americans, the much-in-demand bassist Dezron Douglas and renowned drummer Johnathan Blake – came together.
The Ravi Coltrane Quartet are now here on a short UK tour and appear this evening in Leeds Grand Theatre’s magnificent Howard Assembly Room as one of the undoubted highlights of Opera North’s inspired winter programme of cultural events.
In a mesmerising performance that stretches to almost two hours (split pretty much equally over two sets), the band follow the example of Spirit Fiction and mix originals – from that very record, the sublime ‘Marilyn & Tammy’ (with Coltrane on soprano sax for the first time this evening) and ‘The Change, My Girl’ are played here back-to-back – with covers from some of Coltrane’s great jazz heroes.
The opening ‘Bird Food’ keeps a respectful distance from Ornette Coleman’s original whilst still managing to convey all of its complex melody, rhythm and swing. And the closing rendition of Charlie Parker’s ‘Segment’ showcases each man’s incredible musical virtuosity as they conjoin in an astonishing exercise of bebop exploration that culminates in the most startling of drum solos from Blake.
On A Love Supreme, John Coltrane played with what was one of the greatest quartets in the history of modern jazz (pianist McCoy Tyner, drummer Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison on bass). And whilst his son may never quite reach those extraordinary heights, when he, Virelles, Douglas and Blake perform like they this they are clearly capable of producing a similarly exceptional sound.
Some more photos from this show can be found here
And here is What’s On at the Howard Assembly Room in Leeds in the coming months