Ravi Coltrane, son of John and an expressive tenor saxophonist in his own right, jammed with the Allman Brothers Band for nearly a half-hour on the opening night of its nine-night Beacon Theater stand. Rather than twist his style to the R&B honking that inspired the Allmans 30-odd years ago, he sparked a dialogue in his idiom, jazz, that pushed guitarist Derek Trucks in directions unexplored by the legendary Southern rock act. With Warren Haynes providing similarly fervid improvisation, the three soloists most impressively reinvented the warhorse instrumental “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” shaking it free of the ghost of Duane Allman and his former partner Dickey Betts.
“Elizabeth Reed,” highlight of a night that included a slow and tempestuous “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” and a vigorous rendition of “Dreams,” was the one tune that twisted toward the dissonant — with solo lines removed from the tune’s context, it steered away from its traditional, gradual build. When bands get up in years, they don’t generally take a deconstructionist approach to a classic, but here the guitarists used the anthem to distinguish themselves from the tune’s origins 35 years ago.
Much as the Allman Brothers Band still delivers a hearty and generally bubbly show, first night at the Beacon was a real eye opener. The Beacon shows, which go back about 10 years, have marked the end of the Allmans’ hibernation period, a warm-up before they hit the road in summer. As far as intensity and communication go, there was no sleep in the eyes, no tight muscles and no need for a power nap, even as the show neared the three-hour mark. They are a remarkably healthy unit, a blueprint for modern blues-rock bands.
Trucks and Haynes, arguably the most assured tandem in the Allmans’ 36 years, and leader Gregg Allman have swept aside the country and pop touches to become full-fledged blues rockers; Coltrane gave those blues an artier option, and the guitarists responded, in kind, by turning out old fashioned call-and-response playing that fit the model perfectly.
Set was packed with vintage tunes — “Black-Hearted Woman,” “Stand Back” and “Southbound” — and aided by a new instrumental from bassist Oteil Burbridge and a three-song Allman solo set that included Jackson Browne’s “These Days,” an obscurity from 1974, “Oncoming Traffic” and a new number that could’ve been cobbled together with Randy Newman.
Allman’s weary vocals work better on this material than in songs he put together on his last solo tour. Experience and grit have aged his voice, and he sings each number with commitment; his gurgling organ, too, continues to distinguish the Allmans from their brethren and allow them to stay securely seated at the head of Southern rock’s table.