Ravi Coltrane: In Flux
The progression of Ravi Coltrane as a musician and leader reaches a momentous level on his fourth recording, In Flux, his most striking and mature work to date. Having been in the jazz game for awhile, various roles have found him as a sideman on many artists' recordings, co-owner of the RKM Music label, and a producer of artists such as pianist Luis Perdomo as well as the acclaimed return of his mother Alice Coltrane's release Translinear Light. With wisdom and respect he has admirably upheld his revered namesake yet also developed a distinct voice if one listens closely.
With tremendous expectations from jazz fans and critics, this voice has slowly developed on previous recordings starting with his auspicious debut Moving Pictures, the outstanding effort From The Round Box, and his 2003 release Mad 6. Each recording has shown different facets of the saxophonist in terms of performance, adaptation, and creativity, as he charts his own path as a musician. The expectations are still present but he's seemingly handling it with ease by doing it his way, at his own pace, and with his own style.
The new recording documents Coltrane with his working band for more than two years (bassist Drew Gress, pianist Luis Perdomo, and drummer EJ Strickland) and you can hear the strong group dynamic in the musicthe cohesiveness, energy, and consistency. The vibe is more relaxed and focusedresulting from musicians that have performed together over time. Each musician is noteworthy in his own right and has proven on numerous recordings that they are progressive in their approach to diverse music ideas. In a recent article in Downbeat magazine Coltrane stated, "I'm not interested in the idea of holding up the bannerKeeping Jazz Alive!Because it's not dying." A serious listen to In Flux clearly proves that statement and shows what modern jazz sounds like and hints at the potential of things to come.
If you're expecting a typical modern post bop recording, then think again. Instead of starting with the usual up-tempo selectionthings begin slowly with the short introspective piece "The Message" focused around a poignant piano and sax duet as Perdomo's probing keys are joined by Coltrane's warm and soothing tenor. The up-tempo piece follows next on the effervescent "Coincide" as the group strength shines with everyone getting ample solo time. Ravi Coltrane's soprano skills are just as effective not in the sense of sheer blowing (which he also shows in abundance throughout the recording) but more so in his articulation in his use of phrasing, spacing, and sense of time. The essence of swing is intrinsic throughout the recording as the quartet smoothly handles various tempos while other unique points include "Blending Times" featuring mesmerizing percussion by Luisito Quintero as the melody is carefully blended into the rhythm.
There seems to be a fascination with shorter expressions as seen on "Variations I and III" and "Scram Vamp" as each is under two minutes in length but are filled with spontaneous exploration which may leave you wanting more. Ballads and slower pieces such as "Away" written by Gress and "Dear Alice" written by Coltrane for his mother are rewarding and thoughtful as every note is emphasized with fervent expression. Each member of the quartet not only provides exemplary performances but also contributes a written selection with the bulk of material penned by Coltrane. The single cover lies with the Wayne Shorter composition "United" which is a free for all with the group delivering memorable solos and an impressive spot by drummer E.J Strickland who works magic on his kit.
One of compositions that highlights Coltrane's unique growth and style is "Leaving Avignon" which is a slight reprise from his Mad 6 composition "Avignon" - which slowly builds to a powerful crescendo as Coltrane solos fiercely then gradually reverts back to its original tempo.
Jazz should be about discovery not just nostalgia, and Ravi Coltrane and his quartet succeed in bringing that concept to reality. What's next is left to the imagination and growth of an artist who is clearly open to change. On all counts, this is a stellar recording and is highly recommended.
Track listing: The Message; Coincide; Variations III; Away; Blending Times; Leaving Avignon; Dear Alice; Angular Realms; Scram Vamp; Variations I; United; For Zoe.
Personnel: Ravi Coltrane: tenor and soprano saxophone; Luis Perdomo: piano; Drew Gress: bass; E.J. Strickland: drums; Luisito Quintero: percussion ("Blending Times").