It is unfair when a talented person has his or her accomplishments examined through the lens of pedigree. Some, like Barry Bonds, have handled it well, but countless others have bent beneath the weight of great expectations. Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane has forged a notable career in jazz because of (and, perhaps, in spite of) his bloodlines. His latest release, Mad 6, carries on his father's tradition and further establishes him as one of the important voices on the current jazz landscape. His partners on this session are pianists George Colligan and Andy Milne, bassists James Genus and Darryl Hall, and drummer Steve Hass.
Ravi's disc opens with "26-2," a tune by his father. The objective here is homage by way of departure, as Coltrane totally burns the song out, playing it at a much faster tempo, letting the ideas pour out of his tenor as the rhythm section runs along with him all the way until the tune comes to a complete, sudden and triumphant halt. Ravi goes to soprano on the mischievous, funk-laden "Ginger Bread Boy."
"Avignon" begins with a tenor-piano duet between Ravi and Milne. Mingus' classic ballad "Self Portrait in Three Colors" gets an appropriately bluesy treatment, with wide spacing in the arrangement to give the players adequate room. The burning "Between Lines" has a challenging chord structure, executed with nary a speed bump. "Round Midnight," with Ravi on soprano, isn't played at its usual "last call" tempo; the band brings it in at the pace of cars hurrying along the FDR Drive on a Saturday night. The disc concludes with the second John Coltrane bookend, "Fifth House," which Ravi and the band race through, as if to acknowledge Trane's presence before moving along.
With each new disc, Ravi Coltrane's technique and voice becomes more distinct and self-assured. Colligan and Milne are fine pianists, attacking the keys with imagination. Genus and Hall are fine on bass, and Hass does an excellent job on drums, particularly on "Fifth House," where he uses the drumsticks as instruments unto themselves. With Mad 6, Ravi Coltrane has added another rich chapter to his own evolving musical legacy.