By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — SFJAZZ continues its 2017-2018 season this weekend with a celebration of the music of saxophone giant John Coltrane that will feature his Grammy nominated son and heir apparent Ravi Coltrane along with a host of jazz luminaries paying tribute.
One of the most influential horn players to emerge during the ’50s, the initially bebop-inspired Coltrane progressed from early work with Dizzy Gillespie and Johnny Hodges to a pair of storied collaborations, first playing with trumpet great Miles Davis mid-decade in what would later be referred to as his “First Great Quintet” before being sidelined with a debilitating heroin addiction (though not before contributing to a string of storied Davis albums including Cookin’, Relaxin’, Workin’, and Steamin’ on the Prestige label.
Coltrane would kick his habit by 1957 and begin working with iconoclastic pianist Thelonious Monk in addition to recording his first albums as a leader, including the seminal Blue Note Records effort Blue Train. Soon afterwards, he rejoined Davis in his group to contribute to the watershed jazz album Kind of Blue, one of the most influential and revered recordings of the era.
After an initial run with Atlantic Records — including more landmark albums as a leader such as Giant Steps and the commercial and critical hit My Favorite Things that introduced the soprano sax to Coltrane’s arsenal, the saxophonist would become the cornerstone of the Impulse! Records label.
By then working with his legendary quartet featuring volcanic drummer Elvin Jones and innovative pianist McCoy Tyner, Coltrane released a series of albums ranging from traditional jazz standards (Ballads, Duke Ellington and John Coltrane with the iconic big-band leader) to more exploratory experiments like his spiritual hymn A Love Supreme and the collective improvisation opus Ascension. Up until his untimely death in 1967 from liver cancer at age 40, Coltrane produced an inspiring string of recordings — many that weren’t released until years after his passing — that pushed jazz into a new direction.
The long-running Bay Area cultural institution’s current season at the state-of-the-art SFJAZZ Center this week offers up a full schedule of Trane tributes with Ravi Coltrane, kicking off with a listening session Wednesday night. The talented young saxophonist will be in conversation with SFJAZZ founder and Executive Artistic Director Randall Kline as Ravi plays music from throughout his father’s career and discusses plans for the weekend salute.
On Thursday, Ravi performs with his current quartet that includes pianist David Virelles, bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Johnathan Blake. While he has played songs his father’s catalog occasionally in the past, Thursday’s concerts represent the younger Coltrane’s first real in-depth examination of that legacy. On Friday, Ravi will join one of his father’s most renowned disciples, sitting in with tenor great Pharoah Sanders and his quartet. Sander’s was a key member of Coltrane’s latter era group, adding his ecstatic, fire-breathing sound to such albums Kulu Se Mama and Meditations in addition to collaborating with Coltrane’s wife Alice and producing his own milestone efforts Tauhid, Karma and Thembi.
Saturday night, Ravi convenes a high-powered ensemble for a special performance of Coltrane’s spiritual-jazz landmark A Love Supreme on what would have been his father’s 91st birthday. The expanded group includes New Orleans trumpet virtuoso Nicholas Payton, gifted guitarist Adam Rogers, bassist and son of Jimmy Garrison — a member of Coltrane’s classic quartet — Matthew Garrison and acclaimed drummer Marcus Gilmore, the grandson of jazz hero and Coltrane collaborator Roy Haynes. Earlier that day, there will be a family matinee with saxophonist and jazz educator Theodross Avery giving parents and kids an overview of Coltrane’s career.
The celebration of the Coltrane legacy comes to a close on Sunday with Ravi and Garrison teaming with legendary drummer Jack DeJohnette to play music from the trio’s acclaimed 2016 ECM recording In Movement. The Grammy nominated album found the group reinterpreting songs from Coltrane (his haunting elegy for the 1963 Birmingham church bombing “Alabama”), Davis (“Blue and Green”) and surprisingly Earth, Wind & Fire (“Serpentine Fire”) with remarkable creative fire.
In addition to the wealth of live performances that are part of SFJAZZ’s Coltrane Legacy program, the Center and nearby Herbst Theatre will be hosting even more music. The intimate Joe Henderson Lab will present an array of cutting-edge groups through the weekend. On Wednesday and Thursday, boundary-pushing British acoustic piano trio GoGo Penguin mixes traditional jazz sounds with elements of modern classical, electronic and hip hop. Friday, local trumpet player Will Magrid brings his horn-heavy 11-piece group Alligator Spacewalk featuring Jazz Mafia leader Adam Theis to the small room, playing songs from his latest album, Lunar Conquest Suite. Meanwhile, the Herbst Theatre will be pulling in fans of flamenco guitar as Spanish six-string maestro Vincente Amigo exhibits the skills that led the late legend Paco De Lucia to christen him the next great flamenco star.
On Saturday, the Lab hosts Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, the latest group led by the renowned NYC avant-garde alto player. A figure on the downtown scene since the late ’70s and a collaborator with experimental contemporaries like fellow alto saxophonist/composer John Zorn, guitarist Bill Frisell, cellist Hank Roberts and drummer Joey Baron, the prolific Berne’s has released dozens of albums with a myriad of musical projects. His current band with powerhouse drummer and former Bay Area resident Ches Smith (Xiu Xiu, Secret Chiefs 3, Mark Ribot), clarinet player Oscar Noriega, pianist Matt Mitchell and guitarist Ryan Ferreira recently released ECM effort Incidentals showcases some of Berne’s most ambitious songs yet. Sunday finds the Lab taking a different direction with the Latin folk/pop sounds of Y La Bamba featuring lead singer Luz Elena Mendoza. For more information and tickets for these concerts, visit the the SFJAZZ website.