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Bill Charlap & Gary Hobbs at the Earshot Jazz Festival

E.J. Strickland at the 2005 St. Lucia Jazz Festival

The St. Lucia Jazz Festival had already been swinging for seven days before my arrival on Friday, May 6, just in time for the opening of the main stage. Unfortunately, my first evening there the rain that I left at home had followed me to the small, volcanic isle in the middle of the Caribbean. But inside the well-laid out confines of the Gaiety Theatre in Rodney Bay, the Ravi Coltrane Quartet quickly made the weather irrelevant. Accompanied by pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Drew Gress and drummer E. J. Strickland, Coltrane continued on the journey of finding his own artistic space while neither eschewing nor getting lost in his late father’s heavyweight legacy.

On tenor and soprano, Coltrane delivered the mix of buttery-smooth intonations and free-boppish changes that are showcased on his latest disc, In Flux. The interplay between the four was as tight as expected, but one sensed—akin to watching tightly bunched racehorses down the final stretch—that someone was about to break out of the pack. Strickland seized that opportunity midway through the midtempo “Angular Realms” to launch the first of several truly stunning solos. Booming power, speed, full rhythmic and melodic range—it was all there. Strickland exuded that sense of being outside oneself, of being in the zone yet still connected to everything and everybody else in the moment. The near-capacity crowd felt it, too, and responded with rapturous applause.

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