Alice and Ravi Coltrane Meet Branford Marsalis at the Coltrane Foundation Benefit
“ Marsalis and Coltrane climbed all over the melody, tenor madness, indeed. ”
The John Coltrane Foundation brought elegance back to the Miracle Mile's El Rey Theatre with An Evening of Jazz, their annual benefit for the Foundation's scholarship fund. This year, in addition to catching a glimpse of Foundation president Alice Coltrane and son, saxophone slinger Ravi Coltrane, the Branford Marsalis Quartet performed an incendiary set. The dramatic monologue "If Trane Wuz Here"? measured John Coltrane's impact on art and culture, and of course, the young musicians receiving the Foundation's largesse proved to the audience their triumphing talents.
Beginning with the scholarship winners' recital, the awardees paid tribute to the house with Coltrane's "Moment's Notice."? Trumpeter Phillip Dizeck led the attack with Mathias Aspelin kicking the keys, Sean Hutchinson slapping skins, and guest Harish Raghavan blowing a strong bass line. After a sly duet by Raghavan and Dizeck, Will Clark replaced Hutchinson for the band's deconstructed version of "Giant Steps."? That playful romp gave way to an interpretation of "Impressions,"? that slowed the typically exhuberant tempo down to moody.
A glib and glistening performance piece, "If Trane Wuz Here,"? followed. Spoken word artist reg e gaines glanced textual phrases off the always fresh and interesting improvisations of alto saxophonist Matana Roberts. Usually performing as a trio with tap dance dominator Savion Glover, Roberts and gaines worked without the unexpectedly absent Glover. One imagines the somewhat spontaneous change of arrangement as added pressure for Roberts, but her smart, graceful performance reveled in the duo form. A cohort of Jeff Parker, Peter Brotzmann, Fred Anderson, Joe Maneri, and Tony Malaby, among others, the altoist showed no end of imagination in her dialogue, spiced with well positioned Coltrane quotes.
gaines concisely contextualized Coltrane's music with vivid verbal images. Using a list of Trane's titles as a chant, he later recited an honor roll of saxophone immortals between choruses of "A Love Supreme."? Roberts continued spinning her fluid meditation, as gaines gave impressions of the quartet and even included a brief history of hiphop. Matana Roberts' obvious skills make her a player to watch.
After gaines and Roberts' departure and stage arranging, the Branford Marsalis Quartet appeared, Marsalis quickly introducing the band, and a new composition with a working title of "Jack Baker."? From the countdown until they left the stage, the Branford Marsalis Quartet played with the intensity of men covered in fire ants. Straight ahead hard with free edges fraying, they flew through the changes with Jeff "Tain"? Watts hitting drums low and fast, and Marsalis blowing tornado tenor. Jeff Revis somehow found fingers enough to keep up, and pianist Joey Calderazzo stunned the crowd with his fists of fury approach. Grabbing handfuls of keys, Calderazzo soloed in percussive brick chords. Watts bashed like an angry octopus.
As much hectic mayhem as they generated in the opener, the new and hastily titled, "Chicken Ball Ballad"? pulled the audience into an understated introspective space with Marsalis singing sweetly on soprano. The moving performance showed Calderazzo's reflective side. Revis' "Black Elk Speaks"? opened with free moments threaded through time and tempo shifts. Once they hit their groove, the piano dropped out leaving a tumultuous trio with Marsalis melting the front rows. With Watts explosive, Calderazzo played in athletic spiky fluidity. Acapella, Revis played the whole bass, body and all. His extended techniques included taps and scrapes, and his traditional technique was blinding.
Ravi Coltrane joined the well warmed musicians for a stirring version of "Mr. PC."? Marsalis and Coltrane climbed all over the melody, tenor madness, indeed. Coltrane struck first, comfortable with the pace and varying his phrasing. Marsalis remained throttle wide open, harder edged, digging deeply and adopting the delivery of a jet engine. Calderazzo soloed exercising all ten of his options. On "Giant Steps"? Branford led a head first charge, Ravi more impressionistic, moving in and out of time.
A standing ovation met the appearance of Alice Coltrane joining the group on stage. With her first new album in 27 years, Ms. Coltrane opened with "Blue Nile,"? Ravi and Branford each exploring the classic composition. Ms. Coltrane enthralled the crowd, curling through the tune like incense. The band took a break as youngest son Oran joined Ms. Coltrane in recreating "The Hymn,"? a duet from her new Translinear Light collection. With everyone back for the finale, the group launched "A Love Supreme,"? with Marsalis on soprano. The rough and tumble rhythm section kept it low-key, and Ravi locked into the groove. Marsalis switched his biting tenor to build a remarkable solo.
The encore, "Impressions"? found Marsalis back on flame-thrower, roasting the theme inside out and back. Ms. Coltrane took thrilling flight on her trademark organ, and warmed up Ravi poured it on.
The crowd pouring out of the El Rey onto late night Wilshire Blvd buzzed with the intense musical overload of the Coltrane Foundation's plainly titled "Evening of Jazz."?