But the most impressive thing about Ravi Coltrane is how successful he has been at developing his own identity as a jazz saxophonist in spite of having grown up in the shadow of his father, one of the most important (and respected) figures in the history of jazz. Ravi was born in 1965 and his father passed away in 1967 (from liver cancer), so their time together on this earth was brief. But the spirit of John Coltrane continues to live in the hearts and minds of jazz fans the world over, so I’m sure that when Ravi made the decision to pursue a career as a jazz saxophonist, the pressure to measure up to his famous father was intense, to say the least. Under such grand expectations, many might have chosen a different instrument, or some career outside of music altogether. But fortunately, Ravi had other plans.
On In Flux, his fourth recording as a leader, Ravi shows that he is continuing to mature, both as a musician and a composer. Early on, his tone on tenor saxophone had been compared more to Joe Henderson than to his father, but as he has developed over the years I’m hearing a lot more of his father’s tone coming out of his horn. But the similarities end there. Ravi has found his own voice on both tenor and soprano, and his approach is original and uniquely his own. His albums are straight-ahead, contemporary, hard bop projects, each release more complex and heady than the last.
Joining him on this album are Luis Perdomo on piano, Drew Gress on bass, EJ Strickland on drums and a special guest appearance by Luisito Quintero on percussion. Coltrane penned six of the twelve tracks, with five contributed by his band mates and the remaining one a cover of Wayne Shorter’s "United". It states in the liner notes (written by Ashley Kahn) that this album’s defining characteristic is the band’s "understated and flexible approach to collective time". Truer words were never written, and if you try to count along to some of these tunes, with their challenging syncopated rhythms, you quickly realize exactly how true that statement is.
Sometimes music as technically evolved as this can seem cold and soul-less, but that definitely is not the case here. Ravi and company manage to bring emotion and heart to each one of these compositions, and each breathes with a life of its own. I do have one minor gripe. I’ve never been a fan of the short song. I’ve simply never been able to find much use for a song that’s less than two minutes long - if I like a song, two minutes is never long enough, and if I don’t like it, two minutes is much too long. Four of the tracks featured on In Flux clock in at under 2 minutes, and with each I felt just a little bit teased, just a little bit short-changed. But obviously the band felt that they had expressed what they wanted to express in the time they spent on each of these tunes, and it’s difficult to argue with that.
That one little quibble aside, there’s no denying that In Flux is a great album and an ambitious undertaking. It serves as just the latest snapshot along the path of the journey Ravi Coltrane has undertaken to forge his own identity in a world teeming with copycats and poseurs. I eagerly await the next development.