MUSIC: Coltrane live at the Vanguard

No, not that one. This is saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, le fils de l’autre. I’ve been checking out some NPR archives of musicians’ recent performances at the Village Vanguard and other New York City clubs, and while there’s a lot of strong stuff up, I was brought up short by this set from Ravi’s quartet in November. The novelty, of course, comes from the way his father, Trane 41, put the Vanguard on the map in 1961. (Other musicians had recorded there before, including Sonny Rollins, but I’m going to arbitrarily declare it was Chasin’ the Trane that made the club as a venue historic.) And now here’s the son in the same room.

But Ravi’s father died before Ravi’s second birthday. He has always been his own saxophonist, as attentive to John Coltrane’s legacy as any of his peers but widely respected by them and with a strong fan base. Still, I believe the last time I heard Ravi in person was in 2001, a few days after Joe Henderson died, and clearly the youngish saxophonist’s development has continued while I was away. The command of instrument and idiom Ravi shows here is fearsome. His flexibility, the depth of passion in  his playing, his authority over his strong band: all mark him as one of the finest bandleaders of our day. Some readers will find this set a bit abstract and fierce for their taste. But those who are fond of certain prominent saxophone modernists from the ’60s — Wayne Shorter, say, or Sam Rivers — will be all over this set. Good for Ravi.

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