Review: Building on the legacy of jazz

05:00 AM, Jun 27, 2013

Ravi Coltrane (GEORGES GOBET//AFP/Getty Images)/


Written By Jeff Spevak | Staff music critic

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Speak of jazz tradition and what’s the first word that comes to mind? OK, heroin. What’s the second? Saxophone. Argue pianos, argue the human voice if you like. But for many minds, jazz is the sax.

Perhaps that’s why Ravi Coltrane chose the instrument. Or perhaps it chose him, an inevitability considering the setting of his young life, amid the tragedy and artistry of his father, sax icon John Coltrane, who passed away when Ravi was only 2. And the spirituality and artistry, again, of his mother, the avant-garde pianist Alice Coltrane.

He is his own man, now. A packed Kilbourn Hall greeted the Ravi Coltrane Quartet for its first show Thursday, Day 7 of the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. No one was expecting to hear “My Favorite Things.” No, “I’m Old Fashioned” was the first number. The son is not bound to his father’s giant steps. He’s an easygoing fellow — “If it’s for me, I’m not here,” Coltrane joked when a cellphone rang between songs — but his quartet is the Italian sports car of jazz bands.

He did slow it down a bit with one of his own compositions, “The Change, My Girl,” a melodic, lyrical piece. His band was superb, particularly drummer Johnathan Blake, whose kit sports a rippling, sheet-metal chest-plate gong. Coltrane drifted away several times, and gave the band the stage.

Expectations run unfairly high, of course. Now 47 years old, Ravi Coltrane didn’t pick up the sax until he was in his early 20s. When he did it, he didn’t shy away from the tenor sax, what his father was best known for, as well as the soprano saxes.

Coltrane offered some Charlie Parker, another sax icon who became entangled in heroin. But there was no John Coltrane, Ravi preferring instead to look ahead, with a number by his trumpet-playing pal Ralph Alessi: “One Wheeler Will” is about Ravi’s son. Respectfully, the Coltranes have moved on.

Today’s jazz haiku

Waiting for the ‘Trane,

gracious legacy to mind

spirit in the sax

Swedish metal

Midway through his first show at Lutheran Church of the Reformation — an awesome venue for such a crystalline piano-drum-bass trio — Jacob Karlzon offered a confession. The next song, “Dirt,” was inspired and written while brushing his teeth to the music of his new favorite band, the metal outfit Korn.

Once again, there was something very winning about the Nordic Jazz Now band of the night. A yin and yang of melancholy and bemusement. The Jacob Karlzon 3 opened with a piece called “Running,” a good description of Karlzon’s galloping, propulsive grooves. There’s a darkness in his creative well. That’s the Korn influence, or perhaps those long Swedish winter nights. Let’s call it ominous Swedish crime jazz noir.

Karlzon spoke several times of the musical connection between Sweden and America, and he wasn’t talking about all of those ABBA records that we bought. He had in mind the character behind the music, recalling the days of the late 19th century when dirt-poor Swedes toiled the land just to live.

The band was supposed to play Wednesday, but swapped places with singer Viktoria Tolstoy because of a tight schedule issue. That mattered not to Karlzon. He was playing both nights anyway, accompanying Tolstoy for her performance. His band’s itinerary had already taken its lumps anyway. What had been a tour of America slowly devolved, through cancellations, into just two U.S. shows. This 7:30 p.m. performance, and the one later in the evening. “We are halfway through our tour,” the amusingly self-deprecating Karlzon noted near the end of the first show.

96 Beers

There weren’t too many folks in the crowd at Abilene Bar & Lounge who weren’t thinking they’d seen the show of the night — some said the festival — with Garland Jeffreys. No wonder Bruce Springsteen’s a fan. Singing like a longshoreman, ripping up the night in the first set with his best-known song, “Wild in the Street,” jumping off the stage the second set during the Mysterians’ “96 Tears” to circle behind the crowd in the tent with his cordless microphone screaming, “Cry, cry, cry!” as people with plastic beer cups slapped him on the back. And this guy’s 69 years old.