Cheltenham Jazz Festival review: Ravi Coltrane Quintet

Ravi Coltrane. Photo © John Watson/ – for John’s Cheltenham gallery click on the picture.

Ravi Coltrane. Photo © John Watson/ – for John’s Cheltenham gallery click on the picture.

Jazz Arena, Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Cheltenham UK

With Coltrane were Ralph Alessi on trumpet, David Virelles on piano, Drew Gress on double bass and Eric McPherson on drums.

Klepto, an Alessi tune (not to be confused with an Alessi kettle!) from Coltrane’s recent debut disc for Blue Note, Spirit Fiction (reviewed here), was just the right opener to set the tone with its complex timing and dark and sometimes strange harmony, and it let everyone show off their wares.

Coltrane has an introspective style, certainly when he is on tenor (his soprano work, if Spirit Fiction is anything to go by, is hotter). Generally he’s not the kind of saxophonist to grab your attention with show-off tricks and overt displays of fiery virtuosity. Instead he takes his time and gently reels in your interest with unhurried development of a solo. Alessi is more intense and nervier, and the so the two horns in the frontline fit nicely.

The backline developed a slow burn, too, which burst into flame in the finale, an exceedingly powerful reading of Thelonious Monk’s Skippy. After the whole group played the tune, Virelles and Coltrane dropped out to let Alessi work up a head of steam in a most intelligently developed solo of ever intenser feeling. Behind it Gress and McPherson swung hard and reached a high plateau that made all their hard work seem effortless as they cruised in overdrive. It was the kind of sustained moment that you wanted to last for the rest of the day.

In between the band played Word Order, Thirteenth Floor and Paul Motian’s Fantasm, a tune that feels like it was written for Coltrane’s style – oblique, thoughtful and just slightly academic.

Everyone played beautifully but the young Cuban pianist David Virelles deserves special mention – he is a relatively new name to me but is cropping up all over the place, and with due cause. He brings a really fresh approach to his solos and constructs them beautifully. You start out thinking “how is this going to work?” and then realise as the bars flow past  that Virelles has found his own original way through.

This is core 21st century mature US jazz and exactly the sort of stuff that should be at the heart of any festival that flies the jazz flag. Hurrah!

You will be able to hear this concert on Monday, 20 May, as Somethin’ Else Productions were there recording it for BBC Radio 3’s Jazz On 3. More details here.

CheltJazzFest – I apologise if the italicised moan is turning into a habit. This time it’s not so much the intruding noise but the fact that because you schedule things so tightly and sometimes have other events starting while others haven’t finished, we are faced with the unattractive (for musicians and audience alike) spectacle of a goodly number of the crowd squeezing out of the tiny seats and heading for the exit 15 minutes before the final applause. This is what happened with the Ravi Coltrane gig. I assume these people had booked for both Ravi and Gregory Porter. Do you assume there won’t be audience crossover between these two audiences? Do you assume we won’t mind if we are constantly standing up and sitting down during the last few numbers? Do you think the jazz legends you have booked like to see people streaming out of their gigs? I heard one woman bemoaning the rudeness of the punters who had left. It’s not their fault; it’s yours. Don’t do this to us!

Categories: Live review

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