This first Blue Note album from John’s son came out a few months back and has taken some getting into, but the perseverance has been worth it.
It’s very much an album of two halves, but these halves are inter-spliced, so that the journey from first track to last is a more complex, yin-yang one.
The one half is a Ravi’s regular quartet, with pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Drew Gress and drummer E J Strickland, and because it is a touring band of familiars, the modus operandi is intrinsically looser and more instinctive. Three of the pieces, of which the opener, Roads Cross, is a prime example, are credited to all four as composers.
The other half is a quintet, with more formal arrangements, and comprising Ravi, Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Geri Allen on piano, James Genus on bass and Eric Harland on drums.
That second band is much easier to get into initially, and the warmer embrace of the other four brings out some of Coltrane’s finest solos – try Klepto, for example. But as familiarity with the album increases, so the quartet tracks begin to have their effect – especially the quiet thoughtful tenor ballad The Change, My Girl (it’s difficult to completely eradicate John Coltrane’s Ballads album from one’s mind when listening to Ravi rising and falling so lyrically).
Ravi Coltrane’s compositions are sometimes musically intriguing and challenging rather than listener-friendly, and his playing too can sometimes feel a little academic, but ultimately it’s his rich and engaging personality, especially on tenor, which draws the listener in and begins to make sense of the writing.
The final cherry on the top is the addition of fellow saxophonist Joe Lovano (he is credited also as co-producer) on two non-originals, Ornette Coleman’s Check Out Time, and Paul Motian’s Fantasm. Coltrane filled the shoes of the late Michael Brecker in Lovano and Dave Liebman’s Saxophone Summit band, and the bond between the two is clearly strong.
The bringing together of a great name and a great label augurs well – let’s look forward to more Coltrane Blue Notes.