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Ravi Coltrane: Blending Times

Mark F. Turner By

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Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane stands in the legacy of not one, but two great influences: his honored father, John Coltrane, one of the most influential musicians in jazz, and his mother, Alice Coltrane, a superb musician and spiritual guide whose untimely passing in January 17, 2007 left a void that will not be easily filled. Yet with a quiet demeanor contrasted by profound abilities, Ravi Coltrane delivers the long-awaited Blending Times.

This is his fifth release as a leader following 2005's acclaimed In Flux (Savoy). It is even more dynamic due in part not only to Coltrane's personal experiences, but also because of his excellent band that includes longtime members Luis Perdomo, a remarkable pianist, Drew Gress, a demonstrative in-demand bassist, and E.J. Strickland, a gifted drummer who is also the twin brother of saxophonist Marcus Strickland.

Coltrane's tenor is more robust than ever—marked by quickness, stamina, and warmth—showing glimpses of true brilliance on "A Still Life" with inquisitive soloing that has equal amounts of power and gentleness. The appropriate titled "Shine" shows stylistic properties—deliberate, passionate, freely expressed within an enlightening melody where the solos are connected like links in a chain.

The music follows the band's form: a gelatinous continuity conveyed in a mix of stirring contemporary music. Improvisational puzzles ("First Circuit" and "The Last Circuit"), some tricked funk syncopation in "Narcined," a circuitous cat-and-mouse chase in "One Wheeler Will," and swinging bopacity in Thelonious Monk's "Epistrophy." One of the many highlights is "Amalgams," which moves from atmospheric lushness into a smoldering groove. It articulates an identifiable group sound with sparkling individualism that documents a strong performing unit.

As in his previous recordings, there lies a cerebral quality in the music that is undeniable. This reaches an apex on the recording's final track with "For Turiya," a superb ending featuring special guests, longtime friend/bassist Charlie Haden and harpist Brandee Younger.

Written by Haden, the composition begins with a simply beautiful harp solo by Younger which introduces the theme, followed by declarative statements from Haden and Coltrane. It conjures memories of classic recordings that featured both Alice Coltrane's harp and John Coltrane's saxophone with gracefulness and serenity.

Coltrane can't deny his rich heritage and thankfully embraces it. But of equal import, he clearly has it within, to leave his own imprint, as witnessed on this superb release.

Track Listing: Shine; First Circuit; A Still Life; Epistrophy; Amalgams; Narcined; One Wheeler Will; The Last Circuit; Before with After; For Turiya.

Personnel: Ravi Coltrane: tenor saxophone; Luis Perdomo: piano; Drew Gress: acoustic bass; E. J. Strickland: drums; Charlie Haden: bass (10); Brandee Younger: harp (10).

Title: Blending Times | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Savoy Jazz

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