Ed Walsh, Jr. was a baseball pitcher of little renown, the son of a beloved Hall of Famer. Ed, Jr. said something to the effect of "It's a curse to be the son of a great man." If that is true, than Ravi Coltrane labors under the greatest curse of all. He will be blasted if he tries to sound like his father; condemned by others if he doesn't. Practically everybody will expect him to carry on "the Coltrane legacy (whatever that is) without asking him if that was a burden he wanted. He's made records before but this is his first date as a leader, and the first statement he makes on his own. And if he is to make a lasting impact on jazz, he will need to do so outside of what people think of his father. Or (considering the expectations of some) in spite of it.
Producer Steve Coleman is also a musician (he leads the group Five Elements) and a labelmate of Coltrane's at RCA. His production here has a sound similar to his own group, focusing the horns sharply against silence, with bass and drums doing crisp stacattos (not much echo here) and with a lot of single-note lines from the piano. On several tracks the percussion group Ancient Vibrations is added, and Ravi plays introspectively against their pulsations, sometimes helped by the trumpet of Ralph Alessi. It's an uncrowded sound, leading us to focus on the leader and what he says. And Ravi does say things worthy of your attention.
The album develops slowly; many songs blend into each other without a pause. Some of the early numbers sound a little meandering, at least to these ears. Everyone plays well; it's just that some of the solos go without purpose, as if the soloist didn't have a strong conception of what he hoped to accomplish. This is true of at least three cuts - good tone and nice themes, but solos less than memorable. Things pick up a bit on Horace Silver's "Peace", with good solos from Ravi and bassist Lonnie Plaxico. Starting with the track "Mixed Media" (my favorite cut on the album), we hear some strong interaction as Ravi reacts to Alessi's counterline, with the rhythm section feeding on all of this. The same effect occurs on "Inner Urge", with producer Coleman adding his alto, and especially the closer "Outerlude", with the saxophones and Alessi doing some mighty threading.
Ravi also does well on two numbers where he is the only horn. "High Windows" is one of two features for soprano, and he makes it sound very oboe-like. This pleasing tang adds to the track, and contributes to the album's variety. And the ballad "When You Dream" works in a way the earlier slow number did not, with a better feel, and a stronger sense of where the solo was going. The album's second half is definitely worth hearing, and certainly gives an indication of things to come. It wouldn't surprise me if the next album is better - maybe much better. The talent is there.