Ravi Coltrane: Changing and Blending Times

R.J. DeLuke By

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The longer you do something in a collective situation, a group situation, the more the music is going to grow
Ravi ColtraneSaxophonist Ravi Coltrane, he of the inescapable surname, is continuing to grow both as a musician and a person. His playing these days contains more maturity; a sense of exploration, combined with a sureness of attack and a brawny sound.

The growing musical proficiency is documented on Blending Times (Savoy Jazz, 2009). Coltrane and his working band—pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Drew Gress and drummer E.J. Strickland—address a group of tunes both written and improvised on the spot. The band takes an imaginative approach and expresses itself in a particularly free-wheeling way. The essence of jazz is its spontaneity and that comes out in this music. Coltrane is an investigative soloist throughout, but it's also his decisions as a bandleader, setting the direction of the music, that are central.

His growing as a person is ongoing, as it is with everyone, but the 43-year-old saxophonist's journey was injected with a catalyst for change in January of 2007 when his mother—mentor, guide and friend—Alice Coltrane died. Ravi has already been dwelling in a musical land where his father, John Coltrane, was a god. Playing the same instrument has drawn the expected commentaries and comparisons over the years, but Coltrane the younger has valiantly forged ahead, creating his own identity, expanding on his own grand talent through the kaleidoscope of his own experiences.

But Ravi Coltrane never really knew his iconic father, who died when was only two. He's already outlived his father, who died of liver ailments months shy of his 41st birthday. As well as being a renowned musician herself, his mother was the guiding force for Ravi throughout his life. She continues to be a profound influence and will continue to be, moving forward. But things, he admits, are different now.

"Trying to reconcile a past with my present, I guess," he says of the significance of the CD title. Four of the cuts were done in 2006, the remainder of the 10 tunes being recorded in 2007, after his mother died. "There was such a defining shift in 2007, losing my mother; I went right into the studio a month after she passed away. She passed unexpected. It was not anything I had any preparation for. I can feel the shock waves still resonating inside of me when I listen to the material from 2007."

He says his mother had never really been sick until a few years ago, but he was unprepared for her passing. "It's the hardest thing in the world. You don't realize how hard it is until it happens. It changes you. It's hard. It's really, really fucking hard," he relates. "I was very close to my mother. I can't even describe what she was to me in my daily life. She was a musician and she gave me all of my life lessons about music and the fact that we had been doing so much together recently.

Ravi Coltrane"It started out, we were doing a lot together. She bought me my first clarinet. She found an instructor for me. She would help me with my lessons at home. She was pulling us, behind the ear, on stage every now and then and performing. She was very, very instrumental with me becoming who I am as an adult. Not just raising me and doing the things that every mother does, but everything that's connected to my life. Working with her in the last three or four years before she passed, that was sort of a re-connection with all the things we were doing when I was up-and-coming and learning. When all that stuff was suddenly and unexpectedly removed, it was disorienting. It was hard to figure out what I was supposed to be doing.

"For a long time, for most of 2008 when the record didn't come out, I kept trying to figure out what this record was supposed to be about. I kept thinking maybe I needed to record the entire thing again. I had all this material from before she passed away and this stuff from after she passed away. For me, it was such a clear delineation between the two approaches, musically speaking. I finally decided maybe that's what the record needed to be about. A snapshot of these two places in my life and how they related to each other, if they did at all. How seamless they could be together. It's like a blend of my past and my present."

Except for the ballad "For Turiya," all the music on the new record has a great looseness in approach, yet the band—with the experience of working together for years—hangs together while improvising collectively. "For Turiya," a Charlie Haden composition the bassist wrote for Alice Coltrane and first recorded it with her some 33 years ago, is not done with the band. It was recorded separately by Coltrane, with Haden and harpist Brandee Younger. It contains a thoughtful tenor solo by Coltrane, showing off his rich sound and tender phrasing, no doubt a tribute to his mother.

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