by Giovanni Russonello
Sitting with my cohort Luke Stewart in Red Door one evening last winter, my ears perked up at the sound of a tenor saxophone, dripping gray overtones onto a wordless experimental hip-hop track. That’s when Luke explained to me that we were hearing the new Flying Lotus album, which features enhancements from the contemporary saxophone master Ravi Coltrane.
My feeling at hearing this couldn’t have been too different from what Coltrane himself experienced as a kid when he noticed a powerful saxophone sample over a Chaka Khan song. The horn turned out to be Charlie Parker’s. Back then, the son of jazz master John Coltrane was just a kid, and to him jazz seemed like little more than a page out of his family history.
But that snippet of saxophone was a revelation. “That was the first time I heard Charlie Parker,” he told All About Jazz. “But it freaked me out. That one little break. I played it over and over.”
Coltrane eventually found himself tumbling down the tunnels of history, exploring the work of Bird, his own father (who had died when Coltrane was only two years old) and other greats. Now, decades later, he is a forward-looking innovator whose work reflects his father’s spirit of dedicated introspection but cogently forges its own path.
Coltrane will play at the BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown, Md., this Saturday, kicking off the venue’s monthly fall jazz series, and although we know he’ll appear with his quartet, it’s hard to predict what direction the music will take. After the show, Luke and I will have the privilege of leading an onstage conversation between Coltrane and the audience about his music and the state of jazz today.
BlackRock is a cozy, acoustically advanced venue that will provide a strong platform for Coltrane’s group experimentation. This show is not to be missed.
In the spirit of his father, Coltrane has forged his own path during a two-decade-long career. His most immediate classification would be “straight-ahead jazz,” but such a summing up would miss the mark almost completely.
Coming up, he apprenticed with the M-BASE founder Steve Coleman, one of the most singular jazz innovators of our time who imbues his own music with influences ranging from hip-hop history to Eastern spirituality. Coltrane went on to establish himself as a bandleader and music impresario, whose own record label aims to give artists more direct control over their music. He has a solid body of acclaimed recorded work – some of which focuses on originals, some on standards, and some on mixed-up, polyrhythmic dissections of the standards. It might have been unorthodox, but it was far from surprising, to find his saxophone flights on a Flying Lotus track.
At BlackRock this weekend, Coltrane will demonstrate his acuity and articulateness both musically and verbally. It will be a rare, valuable opportunity to peek into a leading musical mind – and personally, I can’t wait for Saturday. We hope to see you there.
Here is BlackRock’s full fall 2011 jazz lineup, which can also be found online at blackrockcenter.org:
- Sept. 17 – Ravi Coltrane (8 p.m., $35-40)
- Oct. 12 – Matt Wigler (1 p.m., $15)
- Nov. 12 – Rene Marie (8 p.m., $30-35)
Ravi Coltrane performs at the Black Rock Center for the Arts at 8 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets cost between $35 and $40, and can be purchased here. For the CapitalBop D.C. jazz calendar listing of the show, click here.