Ravi Coltrane's Blue Note debut, Spirit Fiction, presents the saxophonist in a self-created environment of formal experimentation defined by multiple conceits and constraints.
Coltrane's penchant for this type of thoughtful experimentation has been consistent over his career. With Spirit Fiction, however, he has taken the approach to a new level, deploying an array of recording techniques, compositional approaches, and "process" contexts. The result is an album of great diversity and, considering its quite cerebral architecture, of surprising delicacy and gentleness of feeling.
To support Spirit Fiction, Coltrane enlists both his familiar quartet and, on several tracks, a quintet featuring trumpeter Ralph Alessi, pianist Geri Allen, bassist James Genus and drummer Eric Harland. Saxophonist Joe Lovano, who produced the album, also appears as a guest.
This collection of talent helps provide Spirit Fiction its sonic allure, as well as enabling Coltrane's formal devices to come to fruition. One example of this are the two pieces"Roads Cross" and "Cross Roads"on which the quartet actually performs as two separate duos blended together. This concept of splintering and recombination is repeated on the title track; this time, however, different halves of the quartet recorded the piece separately and the two parts were subsequently combined to form an unusual ghostly effect driven by a haunting pulse.
Not all of the tunes on Spirit Fiction are products of this type of experiment. Many, including some of the highlights, present more straightforward contexts in which the group and Coltrane shine equally. Taken at slower tempos tunes like "The Change, My Girl" and "Yellow Cat," composed by Coltrane and Alessi respectively, reveal Coltrane's ability to deliver subtle, graceful solos, as well as his formidable talents as an accompanist, an often under-appreciated skill. Never saccharine or melodramatic, Coltrane's tone and dexterous playing paint nuanced emotional portraits simultaneously serene and heartfelt. This capacity is especially prominent on one of the album highlights, "Fantasm," on which Coltrane blends his voice seamlessly with Lovano's to create a sumptuous reading of Paul Motian's composition, a fitting homage to the late drummer.
Overall, Spirit Fiction marks yet another successful stage in Coltrane's musical evolution. Its diversity and thoughtfulness reveal a blend of confidence and creative assertiveness the end result of which is a deceptively calm, insightful, and wide-ranging musical journey. It is hard, however, at times not to feel that the amalgam of approaches taken indicates that Coltrane is still searching for somethingnot his own voice, as he has defined that quite wellbut perhaps an overarching directional purpose. Having carefully carved out his own path while acknowledging the ever-present specter of his father's stature, a certain restraint seems to haunts the album, leaving the impression of a too deliberate balancing act.
Of course, paradoxically that restraint may very well be part of what makes Spirit Fiction such an unusually composed and actualized work. As always, it will be intriguing to see what direction Coltrane moves in next.
Roads Cross; Klepto; Sprit Fiction; the change, my girl; Who Wants Ice Cream; Spring &
Hudson; Cross Roads; Yellow Cat; Check Out Time; Fantasm; Marilyn & Tammy.
Ravi Coltrane: saxophones; Luis Perdomo: piano (1, 3, 4, 7, 11); Drew Gress: bass (1, 3, 4, 7,
11); E.J. Strickland: drums (1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 11); Ralph Alessi: trumpet (2, 5, 8, 9); Geri Allen:
piano (2, 5, 8-10); James Genus: bass (2, 5, 8, 9); Eric Harland: drums (2, 5, 8, 9); Joe
Lovano: saxophone (9, 10).
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