By opening Blending Times with "Shine," a wonderful rubato melody by pianist Luis Perdomo, Ravi Coltrane seems to take the spotlight off of himself, making deft use of one of his most potent resources: his working band, with Perdomo, bassist Drew Gress and drummer EJ Strickland. Ever since debuting as a leader, the saxophonist has found ways to grapple with the towering legacy of his late father while also addressing creativity in the here and now. This is Coltrane's first release since the death of his mother, Alice, another major influence. Concluding with Charlie Haden's "For Turiya" (Alice's spiritual name), Ravi joins Haden and harpist Brandee Younger in an unusual trio setting, touching upon the ethereal sound world Alice created so compellingly years ago. But apart from that, Blending Times is very much a quartet document, preserving the lineup from 2005's In Flux (Savoy).
Half of the 10 tracks are listed as "improvisations conceived and directed" by the leader. The banter heard right before "Narcined" clues one in to some extent: Coltrane says "bass drum" to Strickland and up comes an open-ended five minutes of funkfrankly, the least interesting example. "Amalgams," "Before with After," "First Circuit" and "The Last Circuit" go deeper, into a coordinated flow of entrances and exits, solos and pairs. These freeform tracks succeed on multiple levels: as complete pieces, as virtuoso feature spots, as breaks in between the written works (Ralph Alessi's leaping "One Wheeler Will," Ravi's moody "A Still Life," "Epistrophy" in an agitated 5/8 and 4/4). Centering it all is Coltrane's robust saxophone work, from mournful legato testaments to lithe, overflowing bursts of notes, reflecting both discipline and unchecked imagination.
Shine; First Circuit; A Still Life; Epistrophy; Amalgams; Narcined; One Wheeler Will; The Last Circuit; Before with After; For Turiya.
Ravi Coltrane: tenor saxophone; Luis Perdomo: piano; Drew Gress: acoustic bass; E. J. Strickland: drums; Charlie Haden: bass (10); Brandee Younger: harp (10).
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