Ravi Coltrane Quartet
July 15th 2015
In much the same way as I’ve tried to develop a taste for wine many times in my adult life; Jazz too has passed me by. Apart from Chet Baker and a love of Blue Note imagery I’ve constantly been left shaking my head; wondering what ‘it was all about.’
Unable to find a black polo neck sweater and beret in time for the concert; I still dressed a little smarter than the norm, even for a night at The Sage.
While I mingled with the Cool Cats and hipsters in the bar it was apparent that the band had had flight problems earlier in the day; barely arriving with time for a wee and a sandwich never mind a thorough soundcheck.
There was a distinct air of anticipation in the pretty full Hall II as Ros Rigby explained that this was the only UK concert on the current tour; and then introduced the Ravi Coltrane Quartet to a very noisy reception as the band made their way out of the shadows.
All four were looking slightly nervous as they took their positions and with barely a flicker of his eyes to drummer Nate Smith the proceeding started.
I’m certainly no expert; but the first five or six minutes of Out Of The Void (get me!) sounded uncannily like they were soundchecking; as it sounded quite fractured. Then as if by magic they got ‘a groove’ and by golly they were pretty damn good over the next twenty minutes.
Normally photographers are allowed to ‘shoot’ the first three songs at a gig; so when I was told ‘first song only’ I was initially peeved; not expecting a 23 minute opus!
Something happened at the end that has never happened in my 15 years photographing and reviewing concerts of all shapes and hues. A member of the audience (wearing a brightly coloured tank-top) to berate me for having a noisy camera! Honestly – I couldn’t believe my eyes or ears as he insisted I stop immediately. Which I tried to tell him I was finished any way.
The second song wasn’t introduced but was just as amazing with drummer Nate Smith coming into his own on the smallest professional drum kit I’ve ever seen. As the night proceeded I don’t think that there was an inch of kit not touched, tickled, brushed, rubbed, stroked or occasionally hit; but at no stage did he ever look like he was doing anything other than dancing on rose petals. ‘Graceful power’ was what I wrote down; and I still can’t think of a better way to describe his playing.
I’ve seen all of the great Rock drummers over the years, including Ginger Baker and I’ve not one of them kept my interest; indeed enthralled me the way this guy did tonight.
The tune itself had a false ending; which nearly embarrassed me; but thankfully my palms were millimetres away from each other when Coltrane majestically blew into his saxophone again.
I have a notoriously low attention span these days; but was now genuinely mesmerised as I watched Coltrane look like his face would explode when he played his tenor sax; but the sound he emitted was effortlessly cool.
Guitarist Adam Rogers’ guitar solos were liquid and fluid all night; never over shadowing the ‘star’ who in turn appeared more than happy to step back into the shadows as the other three all get their opportunities to shine; and shine they did.
The first half was meant to end with their 26-minute treatment of Charlie Haden’s dark and brooding First Song; but as Smith and Rogers mopped their brows and began moving from their positions, Ravi fixed them with a stare that said ‘one more!’
So the first set was expanded by another 7 minutes and the uptempo Be-Bop tune was played on a tiny Sax called a Sopranino and what a gorgeous sound it made.
Opening with 13th Floor the Quartet took a few minutes to work up a head of steam; but when they did it was a sensory overload.
The second track was called Lush Life and Coltrane made it a haunting tune, as Smith on drums and Scott Colley on bass created a rumbling thunderous atmosphere. Eventually Rogers guitar cut in like a soft ray of sunshine as the band brought it all on home; to receive a loud and hearty cheer from the audience.
Speaking of Colley on the bass I’ve never seen anyone bend strings the way he did; I couldn’t have done what he did with a pair of pliers; yet he made his instrument sound absolutely beautiful.
Coltrane took to the mic one more time and introduced the next tune as the last of the night; yes he know it was the third of the set but he promised it would be ‘a long one.’
He wasn’t wrong. Their interpretation of guitarist Rogers Phrygia was not only spectacular; but breathtaking too. The only thing I could personally compare it too was the Mahavishnu Orchestra 40 years ago. Words nearly fail me when it comes to Rogers guitar playing throughout the 29 minutes – Eric who?
My notes say ‘Aural cacophony’ and I think that’s a fair summation but the interplay between saxophone and drums had to be heard to believed – honestly.
It will come as no surprise that their was a standing ovation at the end; but as the band left the stage with a minimum of fuss, just liked they’d played all evening, there never looked like an encore was possible. They all looked ‘spent’ with nothing left in the tank, as they say.
One last thing; I kept looking over at the Sound Guy on the mixing desk who looked bored rigid; which was odd because the sound (as usual at Sage Gateshead) was crystal clear all night and no requests for ‘more top on the drums’ or ‘less middle on the wah-wah; as my rock chums like to do.