There’s only one way to improve a martini, and that is to have a commodious throat breathe a saxophone over it. Now, there are saxophone players and there are others for whom the horn is an extension of their souls. Most of these people are dead.
One such dead man is John Coltrane, whose ghost I half expected to see mooching around Birdland. Nevertheless, I wasn’t prepared for a living, breathing, reincarnation of the man, his essence, and his tone. Ravi Coltrane embodies the very posture of his father, forcing one to shake one’s head in disbelief. In a set that navigated between the energetic and the melancholic, Coltrane’s muse was explicitly his mother. His four-piece ensemble played music by her, for her, and to her. If this wasn’t a direct line to the ‘60s, I don’t know what could be.
Too often in great cities with great pasts, historic venues have become merely tourist traps. If I’m honest, I expected Birdland to be just such a hokey hole. I am happily disabused.