It’s one of those lineups that almost promises too much: McCoy Tyner, the pianist from Coltrane’s “classic” early-‘60s quartet, leading his own quartet with Ravi Coltrane, John’s son, sitting in on tenor sax. And yet, at tonight’s first set, they pulled it off, which is to say, they seemed natural, the music was simply very good--better than that--and not some cockeyed freak show like, say, Paul McCartney teaming up with Sean Lennon. The band was playing in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Allen Room—a wonder of concert-hall architecture, at once spacious and intimate, with a grand view overlooking Central Park—and Tyner, now 70 and recently ailing, was in ultra-fine form. He banged out the set’s first notes, and there they were—those clanging block chords, forceful, percussive, the sustain-pedal meshing their overtones into a shimmering sonic bouquet. It sent shivers. Then entered Coltrane the younger, now 43 (he wasn’t quite two when John died of liver complications at the age of 40), sounding increasingly like his father—that plangent tone, the sinuous, fluent lines of sixteenth-notes, broken up by abrupt hesitations and jagged rhythms—but not as insistent, adopting more the tone of a balladeer. (Check out his new album, Blending Times
, on Savoy Jazz, for a tasty sampling of what might be called intense lyricism.) Midway through the set, he and Tyner took a big risk—it literally took my breath—when they dashed into “Moment’s Notice,” John Coltrane’s uptempo anthem from his 1957 LP Blue Train
, but Ravi navigated the brisk rapids with aplomb. (It may have helped that Tyner never played that song with Coltrane pere
—the album was recorded a few years before he joined the group—so they were both, in a sense, interlopers. If they’d started wailing the first movement of A Love Supreme
, well, that might have been too eerie.)
Ravi has been on the scene for 20 years now, having recorded his first album as a leader in 1997 after serving as a sideman for the entire decade up to then. There were times when he was clearly searching for a sound. (Imagine the challenge, and derring-do, of being John Coltrane’s son and deciding to take up the tenor saxophone!) But those meanderings allowed him to return to his roots through a path that he plowed on his own; he sounds like a musician in “the Coltrane school,” but not at all an imitator, much less some kid cashing in on the name.
The quartet—which also includes Gerald Cannon on bass and Eric Kamau Gravatt on drums—plays two more sets tomorrow night, May 16, at 7:30 and 9:30.