Just Another Night in New York City

Thursday night, I took the F train to Manhattan's Blue Note, the 8pm set, to see Trio 3—the longstanding improv band, consisting of Oliver Lake on alto sax, Reggie Workman on bass, and Andrew Cyrille on drums—joined by Jason Moran on piano.

Lake is best known for his work with the World Saxophone Quartet. Workman has played with most of the modern greats, starting with Coltrane in the early 1960s and continuing with Wayne Shorter, Art Blakey, Mal Waldron, Archie Shepp, and David Murray, among others. Cyrille made his mark with Cecil Taylor in the '60s, then played with a host of others while leading several of his own groups. Moran, the most inventive pianist on the scene today, can play anything with anybody.

The first thing anyone in the packed club would have noticed is that these guys are old—Lake is 73, Cyrille 75, Workman 78—each nearly twice the age of their guest, Moran who's 40. It's a strange sensation for those of us who have heard their records and seen them live over the years: the erstwhile Young Turks, now the wizened Old Masters.

But they played with the same zest and freshness that they brought to the music 20 years ago, when they first formed Trio 3. Cyrille, eking so many flavorful rhythms, such tuneful colors, and such breezy swing from his drum kit; Workman, heaving such a mighty, soulful anchor, with occasional counterpoint, on bass; Lake, segueing so seamlessly from lush balladry to avant sheets of sound, much in the manner of Dolphy or Jackie McLean.

Moran fit right in, though not easily. I've seen him play many times, but never with such a "strange, ecstatic intensity" (as Kerouac described Ginsberg's first public reading of Howl), eyes closed, head shaking. At one particularly frenzied moment in the interplay, Moran paused, his brow furrowed, as if decoding the music's structure and plotting a way in, before hammering his fingers on just the right notes to weave it all together.

After the show, Moran, no newbie to avant-garde (long ago, he sat in on trios with Cyrille and saxophonist Sam Rivers), said that playing the set was more like reading hieroglyphics than any standard language.

Jason Moran, Jazz Egyptologist.

If you couldn't be there, you should know that Moran and the Trio 3 cut an album three years ago, Refraction—Breakin' Glass (on the Intakt label). Recorded in Brooklyn by Andy Taub, the sound is dynamic and vivid.

After the Trio 3 + Moran concert, I ambled a half-mile north to the Village Vanguard, for the 10:30pm set of Ravi Coltrane and his new quartet. Coltrane, now 50, has been coming into his own the last few years: no longer just the son of John Coltrane but a great jazz musician in his own right, though one who also plays the tenor and soprano sax (can you imagine the daring it took to follow those footsteps!) and who's sounding more and more like Dad.

It was a fine, breezy set. His pianist, David Virelles, 32, from Cuba, plays with a precise and jangled fluency. Bassist Dezron Douglas plants the anchor. Drummer Jonathan Blake has a trap set, the likes of which I've never seen, with the cymbals set way down low, at the same level as the snare, so he can hit them both in a single stroke: snap and splash, at once.

But the highlight came at the encore, when Coltrane pulled out the sopranino sax and launched into "Equinox," one of Coltrane pere's signature songs from the album Coltrane Sound, and nailed it, took it to a new level, rocketed it into space, and brought it down to earth. An amazing piece, capping an amazing night!

Coltrane and his band will be at the Vanguard through Sunday. If you can't make it, you'll be happy to learn that Blue Note is recording the sessions, so the highlights, or some of them, should be on an album soon. I hope they include "Equinox."

doak's picture

... to REAL music helps keep this other stuff in perspective, for sure. ;)