One of the key lessons John Coltrane passed down was the importance of keeping your crew steady. The saxophonist played with everyone during his freelance days, but it was at the helm of a working quartet that he ascended to superstardom. Coltrane’s son Ravi, also a saxist, has clearly heeded Dad’s message; over the past few years, he’s been gigging with an excellent four-piece of his own. Yet part of what made Coltrane’s 2012 effort, Spirit Fiction, so compelling was its mix-and-match approach. The album alternated performances by the familiar group with tracks featuring an entirely different five-member lineup, proving that unlike the senior Coltrane—whose elemental flow made him a natural center of attention—Ravi, a subtler, more reactive player, operates most effectively when set against a shifting backdrop.
This week’s run follows the same logic. Coltrane gigs with three different quartets; interestingly, not one of the supporting players here appeared on Spirit Fiction. The Tuesday and Wednesday sets feature keyboardist Billy Childs and drummer Nikki Glaspie, versatile talents who have accompanied pop royalty such as Sting and Beyoncé, respectively. Thursday and Friday’s shows team Coltrane with two mainstream-jazz masters: bassist Christian McBride and drummer Bill Stewart. And the Saturday and Sunday bills include three fierce up-and-comers, each an acclaimed bandleader: pianist David Virelles, bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Jonathan Blake. All of these contexts should yield unique rewards; none will be definitive. As any admirer of Spirit Fiction could tell you, that’s part of the point.—Hank Shteamer
Follow Hank Shteamer on Twitter: @DarkForcesSwing