The show had a full house, four excellent musicians, good sound, and even a John Coltrane composition. Yet there was one vital missing link.
Ravi Coltrane and company (Ravi Coltrane- saxophone, Christian McBride- bass, Bill Stewart- drums, Tim Hagans- trumpet) performed at Jazz Standard Thursday evening- one in a series of nights which wraps up March 3rd. Everything was there- the 7:30PM set was sold out and the crowd was present and ready for a good night of music. Service was fine, there was no problem with too-chatty audience members (or musicians for that matter), music started on time, and each instrument was clear. For all rights and purposes, this was a good set. Something was not in place, and it took the entire hour for this examiner to solve the mystery.
The Quartet opened with "The Wise One", to the pleasure of John Coltrane fans in the room. McBride is a perpetual standout on bass, and the saxophone was crisp. As the night progressed to the Ralph Alessi composition "Who Wants Ice Cream?” the pace picked up, which led into Fantasm, a creation of the late drummer Paul Motian. When Coltrane introduced the final song, "Nothing Like You Has Ever Been Seen Before", he added a tidbit of information, which excited the fellow Generation X'ers in the room. Composer Bob Dorough was one of the main music writers for the musical tutor Schoolhouse Rock. With a writing credit as important as this, the bar was raised for the finale. It delivered. Stewart was upbeat and brought flavor to the final song of the set.
As the set came to a close and the band left the stage to prepare for the 9:30 show, this examiner overheard the opinion of a tablemate, and felt inclined to agree. The nagging feeling of discontent came from the set list- all good compositions, but all so similar in pace and complexity that the whole set ran at a very level tempo. As an openly proud non-musician but equally proud music absorber, it seemed as if a few changes could have made the difference, even if the songs weren't omitted. Flip the last song to the front, and then shift the opening to the middle; the energy just might have popped.
Having seen each of these musicians perform brilliantly on separate occasions in various combinations, there is no question that this particular formation counted as a power jazz group. It would be interesting to see them again, with different compositions and arrangements, and watch those good sparks fly among these fine gentleman.