Ravi Coltrane Quartet
Jazz Showcase, Chicago
September 29, 2013 | 4pm set
It's easy to imagine the double-edged sword that likely accompanies footstep-following offspring of transcendent musical geniuses.
On the one hand, they may well have inherited rare gifts, and might get heightened notice due to their surname. But no matter how skilled and successful they may be, the likes of Jakob Dylan, Julian & Sean Lennon, Jason Bonham, Ziggy Marley and Roseanne Cash will never be favorably compared to their famous and phenomenal fathers.
Ravi Coltrane is a jazz saxophonist whose father, John, not only was likewise, but stands as a bebop icon and--to my admittedly non-expert purview--one of the greatest, most groundbreaking musicians to ever live (check this out). Ravi's mother, Alice Coltrane, was a gifted jazz pianist, and she and John named their son after another musical virtuoso, Ravi Shankar.
Having seen Ravi--who was just under 2 when his dad died in 1967--perform for the first time Sunday at a matinee set at the erstwhile Jazz Showcase, I won't imprudently judge him in relation to John Coltrane, given my dilettanteish jazz vocabulary. Nor do I have the perceptivity to say how Ravi Coltrane's tenor and technique rivals the few other sax players of his generation I've come to know and like: Joshua Redmon, Branford Marsalis, Miguel Zenon, etc.
With its leader beginning the performance on tenor sax, the Ravi Coltrane Quartet--rounded out by Johnathan Blake on drums, Dezron Douglas on bass and David Virelles on piano--did nothing to avoid the legend staring at them from across the room in the Jazz Showcase's 5th permanent home since 1947.
They opened with a pair of John Coltrane compositions, which I didn't recognize and whose titles I didn't note, but they sounded great.
Ravi's playing sounded equally sublime when he switched to a soprano sax--I thought it was an alto but asked him afterward; he couldn't be nicer in signing an autograph and posing for a photo--and later an even higher sopranino sax.
A mid-set ballad took awhile to excite, but after it had Coltrane noted that it was called, "For Turiya," and was a work Charlie Haden had written for Ravi's mother, Alice.
I certainly don't mean to slight Douglas or pianist Virelles, who also showed they are obviously first-rate musicians.
But on a beautiful afternoon in Chicago, with the sun beaming into the Jazz Showcase, it was a particular joy to watch Ravi Coltrane harmoniously demonstrate--no matter how large his father's great shadow looms--that the son also rises.
Ravi Coltrane's weeklong engagement at Jazz Showcase has concluded, but in addition to highly recommending the venue no matter who else might be playing there, I'll note that Ravi's latest album is called Spirit Fiction. In Howard Reich's similarly praising Tribune review of Coltrane last week, he calls the album one of the best of 2012. I've been enjoying it on Spotify as I wrote this.