When discussing saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, it can be difficult not to mention the fact that he is the son of one of the most iconic jazz musicians in the world. It is also tough not to compare his style with that of his famous father, who was an innovator of free jazz. Ravi knows all this, so instead of trying to mimic his father’s musicianship, he follows his own path and creates musical patterns that both echo the standard traditions and contemporary elements of post-bop jazz.
His new album, Spirit Fiction illustrates his experimentally divergent style and shows what can happen when you pair an exceptionally gifted quintet and quartet on the same CD. Coltrane teams up with his longtime musical partners, trumpeter Ralph Alessi pianist Geri Allen, bassist James Genus and drummer Eric Harland, who make up the quintet for the album, and were also featured on his sophomore release, From the Round Box.
With Spirit Fiction, which is also his debut with Blue Note Records, Coltrane employs a new level of creative freedom and his improvisational skills reach an all time high.
“Roads Cross,” the first track off the album is a dissonant pattern of intensity where the quartet, featuring pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Drew Gress and drummer E.J. Strickland, each exercise a different height of pulse and tempo.
The similarly titled composition “Cross Roads” is another powerful improv fest that finds Coltrane hammering out another rapidly complex solo while the rest of the quartet tries desperately to keep up.
For those who prefer the slightly slower grooves, there’s the soft ballad, “The Change, My Girl,” whose name suggests a level romanticism, but the song was really born out of a dream Coltrane had.
Then there is the slightly mid-tempo tribute, “Tammy and Marilyn,” which was named for Ravi’s aunt, songwriter Marilyn McLeod and her late daughter, Tamra Ellison. (“Marilyn wrote ‘Love Hangover,’ ‘Same Ole Love’ for Anita Baker;she was under contract with Motown in the ’70s.)
Not only is Coltrane in good company with his talented quartet and quintet, but he also shares the spotlight with another veteran, saxophonist Joe Lovano. Lovano, who served as producer of the quintet sessions, joins the quintet on tenor saxophone for an explosive version of Ornette Coleman’s “Check Out Time,” from Coleman’s 1968 Blue Note album Love Call. Harland goes to toe to toe with Coltrane by showing off his pulsating rhythms on the drums.
There is certainly an enormous amount of imagination on this album. Coltrane and Alessi, who co-wrote a majority of the compositions create a scientific pattern of creativity that will both enlighten and entertain you.