Ravi Coltrane plays with surprising clarity, enunciates each note and blows a full tone.
He opened his concert Thursday night at the College of Saint Rose’s Massry Center with a gentle, thoughtful solo while the rest of his quartet looked on. He’s a meditative, spiritual player who works hard not to get excited, though occasionally he can’t help himself.
Soon enough the band was in, playing “Nothing Like You,” doing a round of the chorus before each of them took turns at a solo. The group consisted of Lonnie Plaxico on bass, Nate Smith on drums, and David Gilmore on guitar (no, the Pink Floyd guitarist spells his name differently).
When Plaxico and Smith were prone to chasing Coltrane in his occasional venturing, Gilmore served to anchor the song — for the band and for the audience — with simple, deliberate chords.
The second number — 20 minutes into the show — was “Who Wants Ice Cream?” This was a sweeter, less ambitious tune than the first. Gilmore took the first solo, staying inside the song with tasteful phrasing.
Coltrane talks about using music to discover new things. For that to happen, he seeks adventure. He did that Thursday night by playing with different musicians than his usual quartet. But also, in the third song, he called a few audibles, asking his bass player to take a solo, alone, while the three other members of the quartet — and the audience — watched. In some ways it felt like an audition as the group looked on, encouraging and affirming some of his moves. They each knew they were next.
Coltrane took the meditative route again, drawing on long, deep notes during his turn. Next came Smith, who stayed with Coltrane’s lead, thrumming a soft solo with mallets on the tom toms, smashing the crash cymbal twice for a jolting effect.
Rhythm pours from Coltrane’s pores. When he initially came on stage, he said “Good evening” repeatedly to test the mike, falling into a quick meter with support from the rhythm section. A song was born.
The audience, a mix of jazz players and fans, seemed to enjoy Coltrane’s more venturesome moments, but responded largest when the group returned to the more familiar — the melody. The full house seemed to welcome them back each time.
After playing “Ballad,” an original from Coltrane, the band finally exploded deep in the second set into “I’m Old Fashioned.” This drove to its peak with a rock feel. While we assume these four players could play anything they want at any time, it was good to see them do it in this style. It sounded real good.
The Massry Center is a great place to see this type of concert. The sound is perfect, the location easily accessible and the building a pleasant reminder of why this region is visited by such great players.
You can’t write about Ravi Coltrane without mentioning his father, John, who died when Ravi was 2 years old. Having the great ’Trane as a father is a great monkey on his back, but Ravi Coltrane chose the sax, not the drums or bass, clearly unafraid of the monkey.
In his second time playing the Capital Region on Thursday night, it’s clear he has found his own sound and his own voice and carved his own identity while pursuing his own vision.