WBGO Blog
  • Ravi Coltrane: Live At The Village Vanguard

    November 19, 2008. Posted by WBGO.

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    Ravi Coltrane. (Image Credit: John Rogers for NPR/johnrogersnyc.com)

    He bears the name of jazz royalty, and he's spent many hours curating, archiving and producing his parents' recordings. But when he picks up his own saxophones, Ravi Coltrane blows an original and distinctly modern strain of jazz, distilling but never seeking to imitate his family's adventurous improvising spirits. Now one of today's top saxophonists, Coltrane took his own quartet into the same Manhattan venue where his father John Coltrane so famously held court: The Village Vanguard. Hear the Ravi Coltrane quartet perform live, in a concert broadcast live on air by WBGO and live online here at NPR Music.

    Before this week, it had been more than 40 years since a saxophonist named Coltrane had headlined the Vanguard. With photos of John Coltrane on the walls, it was hard for intent listeners not to notice the family history, especially when Ravi Coltrane brought his tenor saxophone to near-screaming peaks of intensity, or to arpeggiated cascades in his father's "Giant Steps."

    But Ravi Coltrane is clearly of his own progressive bent regarding tone, concept and direction. His compositions experiment with shifting textures and intricate forms, often arranged in a way as to appear almost unstructured, but never overbearing or harsh. One piece, his mother's "Jagdishwar," teased out a welcome wash of beautiful melody. Coltrane's soloing tended toward round shapes and probing explorations rather than the battering, "heavyweight" bravura associated with his father.

    In developing his own style, he's been abetted since 2003 by a fantastic working group: Venezuelan modernist Luis Perdomo on piano, jack-of-all-trades Drew Gress on bass, and bright young drummer E.J. Strickland. That band's latest record at the time of this concert, 2005's In Flux, was well-received, and almost universally described as the first document of Ravi Coltrane's mature personal concept. A new album called Blending Times, with a guest appearance from bassist Charlie Haden, is set to be released in early 2009.

    Ravi Coltrane hardly knew John Coltrane, who died before his son was 2 years old. He got to know his father's musical legacy in the same way most jazz musicians of his age did: through recordings, primarily. It was only when he decided to take his own musical career seriously that a teenaged Ravi Coltrane begin to listen intently to his father's music. The younger Coltrane has since surfaced several previously unreleased recordings of John Coltrane, and contributed liner notes to other reissued albums. He's also worked closely with his late mother, the pianist and harpist Alice Coltrane, in producing and playing on Translinear Light, her lauded comeback album after a 26-year musical retirement.

    After making a name for himself as a versatile sideman — most notably with fellow saxophonist Steve Coleman — Ravi Coltrane has created three albums under his own name since 1997. In addition to performing with his quartet, Coltrane will join the Blue Note 7, an all-star ensemble created to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Blue Note Records, on a four-month tour of the U.S. in early 2009.

  • Interview & Feature with 2009 NEA Jazz Master Rudy Van Gelder

    November 15, 2008. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    Add new comment | Filed under: Jazz Alive

    Randy Van Gelder

    There's a bit of mystery that engulfs Rudy Van Gelder, the 2009 NEA Jazz Master and engineer extraordinaire.  As a young teenager, he soldered radio parts together to construct his first recording equipment.  He rarely grants interviews and if he does they're rarely done live, in person. Gelder says he strives for a kind of exactitude, to avoid any imprecision with his answers. He's a stickler for detail, not only for his pristine mixes, but also in his historical accounts (too many to count).  All the legends seemed to have worked with him, and each surely have their own story.  Here's one told by Cyrus Chestnut when he first met Gelder.  When I requested an interview with him,  I submitted questions beforehand.  His pre-recorded  responses - in perfect sonic sonority, I might add - can be heard here.  But, before you listen, you might want to read my questions below. - Simon Rentner

    Also enjoy this Rudy Van Gelder feature by clicking here.

    Questions for Van Gelder
    1) I've read that you've engineered anywhere from "2,000 sessions" to "tens of thousands" of jazz sessions in your career. For the record, have you ever tried to estimate how many albums you've worked on? Does this work ever get tiresome?

    2) You were remarkably endowed with "good ears." How have you taken care of your hearing over the years? Do you have any special methods or practices to keep them healthy?

    3) In the beginning, you brought musicians like Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley into your first studio -- the living room of your parent's house. Can you recall one or two amusing stories where your family/personal life collided with some of jazz's larger-than-life personalities? Please set it up for us.

    4) You have remarked needed to invent and build your own "mixer" and recording rigs when you started. Has any of that gear ever been on display at a museum somewhere? What was your most difficult challenge when constructing your own equipment? Did you ever hit a wall?

    5) What was your immediate reaction when you learned about becoming an NEA Jazz Master? Do you equate it to receiving a Pulitzer?

    6) When you were compiling selections for the Blue Note album "The Perfect Takes," what tune or tunes didn't make the CD that you wish you could've squeeze on? When you have thought of the selection, can you explain it in detail? Why is this take special? Why are you proud of it?

    7) You have been cited as often "deflecting any credit" for the work you've done over the years. And the "praise should go to the musicians, and to the producers who hire and direct them." If this is the case, why do you keep your recording and production techniques so hidden from public view? Do you ever intend to share your recording secrets?

  • JazzSet: Swiss Movement Revisited at the Kennedy Center

    November 14, 2008. Posted by Becca Pulliam.

    Javon Jackson
    On November 10 at the KC Jazz Club, JazzSet recorded the "Swiss Movement Revisited" show, featuring Javon Jackson on tenor and special guest Les McCann, singing at the keyboard. The title comes from the 1969 Les McCann Trio live-at-Montreux LP with Eddie Harris on sax. Swiss Movement captured a primal-screamin moment at the end of the 60s, with the sly & infectious anthem that asks the question, "Tryin' to make it Real, Compared to What?"

    Mark Schramm was our onsite producer for "Swiss Movement Revisited," and Mark reports.

    "Javon has put together a crack band to play this music. They've been together for a year now and it shows. The arrangements are tight but the band plays loose and with tremendous energy. After "Where Is the Love?" (think Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway), Javon brings on Les, who uses a motorized cart to get around. In Les's first blues - earthy, soulful, funny, intense - every note has meaning. There's a quality of directness of expression with Les that is very moving in person.

    "They played Eddie Harris' 'Cold Duck Time' (click to listen to the tune with a guitar solo by David Gilmore) from Swiss Movement, then an uptempo Javon original, then quieted down for an "Amazing Grace" duet with Les and Javon. Javon backed him perfectly. There was a lady sitting next to me at the back of the room and she had tears coming down her face at the end of that song. She wasn't the only one.

    "An excellent 'Freedom Jazz Dance' followed (yet another great Eddie Harris tune), and then came the set closer, 'Compared to What.' This is Les's signature tune, and he sings that song (an anti-war anthem, let's not forget) with all the passion of the original. The driving rhythm got people up out of their seats, dancing in the back of the room. I don't think I've ever seen that at the Jazz Club!

    "Between sets and after the show, Javon signed CDs out front of the club. His new one, Once Upon a Melody (Palmetto), is excellent by the way. Almost every person who bought one asked, 'Do you have a CD with you and Les?' And the answer was no. I can't tell you how many people came up and THANKED us for being there recording the concert."

    **

    "Swiss Movement Revisited" airs on JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater the first Sunday in February, launching 26 weeks of JazzSet in Surround Sound, thanks to underwriting from Neural Audio. Let us fire up all six of your speakers!

    Becca Pulliam