Ravi Coltrane at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue (INTERVIEW)
Ravi Coltrane, who performs Saturday night at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue, has had to work harder than most to distinguish himself in the jazz world. Like his father, John, he plays tenor sax, but with a darker, more lyrical sound, and composes in a an edgy, postmodern style with propulsive rhythms, avant-garde touches, and irregular structures. Thus it may seem regressive to have formed a quartet with piano, bass, and drums, which so mirrors the famous John Coltrane Quartet of the ‘60s—but 45-year-old Ravi Coltrane has his own ideas about leading a band.
“I don’t see my role as the usual ‘guy standing at the front of the band’ while they try to make me look good,” says Coltrane. “I am setting the agenda—these are the songs we’re gonna play, this is what’s gonna happen tonight— but really, in the musical moment, we’re all on an equal footing. I look at it as a dialogue between four musicians.”
“Dialogue” is perhaps the key element in Coltrane’s band, which since 2002 has consisted of Luis Perdomo on piano, Drew Gress on bass, and E.J. Strickland on drums. “It’s the first thing I kinda picture when I think of how the group functions,” he says. “I rely on them in ways that are not traditional in a jazz quartet setting. I’m listening to them and they’re listening to me, and it turns it into something else.”
Naturally, maintaining that kind of flexible give-and-take requires changing things up regularly. Though their repertoire is fairly stable, the band makes a point of playing the songs differently from night to night. “I love not casting things in stone, because that gets very boring,” Coltrane explains.
Transforming them is often as simple as one band member’s improvising a new introduction or coda. But even that, says Coltrane, risks becoming stale: “One night something happens where you say, ‘Oh, that actually sounds good,’” he says. “And then you do the same thing the next night, or you do a small variation on it the next night, and then suddenly this becomes a hardened arrangement.”
The one surefire way to keep energy and creativity up is with new compositions, which is (primarily) Coltrane’s domain. They take their unusual shapes not from any urge to be different, he says, but from his creating them out of improvisations. “I’ll set the tape recorder on the piano, and improvise melodies for 20 minutes or whatever it is. And then I’ll go back and listen, and see what I can develop into something broader.”
He has recently completed a new batch, which the quartet is currently breaking in on the bandstand; they’ll be a substantial part of the quartet’s performance Saturday night. “We’re going to record for Blue Note in the middle of December, and my plan is to definitely have this new material played.”
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