On the Abe Ovadia Trio, and the never-ending search for John Coltrane’s fiery intensity

Whenever I go to a live music event my hope is to get completely absorbed and immersed within the music. I find that the musicians who do this most for me are not the ones who show off their mastery of the language or technical proficiency. Rather, what gets me hooked is when a musician has an intensity and focus that is laser sharp, who sweats from playing their heart out, and who is searching for something deeper within the music — I call these musicians seekers.

One such musician is up-and-coming guitarist Abe Ovadia.

This past December, Abe and his trio performed a tribute session for the late master John Coltrane at Cornelia Street Café in New York City. Along with Anthony Pocetti on organ and Shareef Taher on drums, the trio played with an energy and intensity that ran deep and that was personal. Abe is not a conventional guitarist by any means. It is clear that he plays by his own rules and he is not out to prove anything to anyone other than to those who have preceded him on the bandstand — Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones.

Ovadia aims for the same intensity of the Coltrane’s Classic Quartet but at the same time he clearly has own distinct voice on the instrument, with shades of influences such as Kurt Rosenwinkel, Pat Martino and Peter Bernstein. The group chose which Coltrane compositions in careful manner, choosing those which are more rarely played by most contemporary musicians. These included tunes like “Africa,” “Dahomey Dance” (named after the 18th and 19th century African kingdom) and “India.”

One of the highlights of the night was their interpretation of “Chim Chim Cheree,” which appears on the 1965 release The John Coltrane Quartet Plays. Abe’s construction of the melody was new and fresh with the lines continually flowing into another without pause, and maintaining a steady direction at all times. His solo on this tune (and others), was an experimentation of patterns, repeated and inverted in various ways, almost bringing the audience to a trance state.

The energy, focus, and intensity of the Coltrane’s Classic Quartet has gone arguable unmatched since. And, unfortunately, it appears to me that many musicians nowadays seem to dismiss the possibility of replicating or going beyond that intensity. They view it as a certain alignment of the stars that will never again happen.

This is not so with the Abe Ovadia group, as their playing is a relentless pursuit for a similar intensity, as if there is a giant wall they’re attempting to knock down that will unlock the answers they’re seeking.

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David Greenberg

David Greenberg is a PhD researcher in music psychology at the University of Cambridge in England.He also plays saxophone in various groups including the Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra. Follow him on Twitter: @dgreenberg7. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.