The 47-year-old saxophonist Ravi Coltrane (yes, son of jazz legend John) is a wonderful player, but for the first couple of tunes in the first of two sets at Scullers on Thursday night, it wasn’t his horn that held the room so much as his music — the combined effort of his band. Coltrane has been changing up his live show regularly since disbanding his longstanding quintet following the release of last year’s “Spirit Fiction” (Blue Note). At Scullers he brought in guitarist Adam Rogers, bassist Dezron Douglas, and the all-important Ralph Peterson on drums. It was the way these players locked into the tunes and one another that ultimately made for a ferocious juggernaut.
They opened with the medium-slow groove of Coltrane’s “The Thirteenth Floor,” with the leader on soprano sax, playing the short theme and then elaborating, extending his lines. Meanwhile the tune built from a simmer to a boil, Peterson playing slow, heavy rolls every time the form turned the corner back to the top of the chorus. By the final round of solos, those big blustery rolls became more outrageous — anticipating the downbeat, as if saying “Wait for it!” and then slamming back into the tune. That play of tension also held true for “Klepto” (by former Coltrane band trumpeter Ralph Alessi). Here, a wired, jumpy little riff in the rhythm (the tune is about stealing music, Coltrane explained) defined the form, popping like a coiled spring every time the soloists came back to it. Everyone in this band knew how to make everyone else sound good, with accompaniments that suspended time and harmony, deferring expectation and resolution, creating a heady flow of tension and release.
Ravi himself got to soar when he picked up the tiny sopranino sax (about half the size of a soprano) for a way uptempo take on the third tune, Charlie Parker’s “Segment.” He made the small horn sound big, slicing through the ensemble and finding new traction in his improvisations. The crowd roared. The set closer, Rogers’s “Phrygia,” was a blast of modal jazz that gave everyone ample room to stretch. Peterson, taking a final solo, lost hold of a drumstick, which bounced off a rim and back into his hand. The crowd roared again.