Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane continues his maturation as a composer and leader on In Flux, his fourth at the helm, offering a compelling straight-ahead set. It's the first document of his quartet with pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer E.J. Strickland, with whom he has gigged for the last few years, fostering a group identity and sound. Symbiosis results, as the interplay of the musicians buoys the compositions, while the tunes and arrangements spotlight the strengths of the performers. The group chemistry is bolstered by the original compositions contributed by each musician and the inclusion of two freely improvised pieces.
The short piano-tenor sax duet "The Message" displays Coltrane's emotive, lyrical side to open the recording. This side resurfaces on Gress' mournful tune "Away," where the sparse drums and subtle piano chords and bass movement frame the keening horn and on "Dear Alice," a heartfelt paean to his mother, featuring swirling tenor lines around the wavelike motion of the rhythm section. These pieces exemplify the group's patience; tunes unfold episodically. Throughout, Coltrane avoids skronk and atonality.
But In Flux is not all slow-tempo ballads. Coltrane dons the soprano on "Coincide," slinking around the ensemble as it builds intensity, including a fierce bombast by Strickland filling over the changes. His tune "Angular Realms" features askew movement, especially the piano accents in the head and provides an engaging platform for Coltrane and Perdomo's solos. The pianist's contribution, "Scram Vamp," injects energy, with Gress and Strickland latching onto the groove for Coltrane to soar. Fiery bursts dominate the improvisatory pieces "Variations I and III" and show the musicians' collective empathy.
Although Coltrane is the leader, his band approach to the recording translates into enthusiastic performances and fleshed-out ideas, bringing him to a plateau on his musical path.
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