Saxophonist, composer and bandleader Ravi Coltrane’s debut recording for Blue Note Records, Spirit Fiction, was released on June 19. I believe that’s cause for celebration.
You may recall reading the news about Coltrane’s historic Blue Note signing in a previous James on Jazz column. We also profiled Coltrane in a 2008 interview with the MSR.
Yes, let’s be honest: With this new recording, Coltrane may not receive pop star treatment, or see his face in full-page ads in Newsweek or Time magazines, but make no mistake — he will get noticed.
Perhaps the best way to approach the new album isn’t so much with great anticipation and great expectations but with openness and appreciation. Yet the anticipation surrounding Coltrane’s debut for Blue Note has been major. Many of his current live dates, including those in the Midwest, have given veteran music writers reason to write that he’s ready for this big step forward.
I say, he was born ready.
But let’s just stop and appreciate how far Coltrane has come as an artist, at the same time, recognize how much further he has to go, and be open to all the vast possibilities a career such as Coltrane’s, with its potential for real longevity, can bring.
Let’s just get this out of the way: Take the fact that his father is John Coltrane out of the equation. Instead, just look at him as a superb musician in his own right with plenty of stamina and potent musical ideas to contribute at just the right time: now.
Spirit Fiction was co-produced by Coltrane’s label mate and fellow saxophonist Joe Lovano. The album features two different band lineups, which doubles the fun, so there’s certainly a wealth of creative variety here and a shared, yet seemingly familiar language spoken as well. There’s Coltrane’s long-term quartet with pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Drew Gress and drummer E.J. Strickland, and a quintet featuring trumpeter Ralph Alessi, pianist Geri Allen, bassist James Genus and drummer Eric Harland. Lovano also guests on a couple of tracks.
Based on the individual line-ups alone, listeners stand to benefit greatly from their seasoned experience and talents.
From beginning to end, the album’s overall vibe is laid back, yet laser focused with each musician presenting the music generously. Standout tracks include, “The Change, My Girl,” “Who Wants Ice Cream,” and Ornette Coleman’s “Check Out Time.”
The contrasting sounds provided by pianists Perdomo and Allen, and drummers E.J. Stickland and Eric Harland, are equally rewarding. Trumpeter Ralph Alessi is an impressive addition to the mix, not just for his playing but for his exquisite writing. He contributes three compositions to Spirit Fiction.
Coltrane’s tenor and soprano saxophone sounds relaxed, his tone assured and warm. The recording itself is mixed well, and its overall sound quality is pure refinement — everything you’ve come to expect from a Blue Note recording.
In the album liner notes, Lovano called this album “historic.” When people look back on this, Coltrane’s debut album for Blue Note — a historic label — what will people remember most of all?
Perhaps, people will remember Coltrane and Spirit Fiction for an inner glimpse of his decisiveness vision, and the gentle, intuitive way in which he weaves his sound together into a memorable creative swirl of colorful and beautiful notes.
Coltrane’s most recent albums include In Flux (Savoy, 2005) and Blending Times (Savoy, 2009).
There’s a reason his recordings have been long awaited. The Long Island native has made five albums in the last 15 years. And it’s a good thing Coltrane takes his time when it comes to releasing new material. The end result is imaginative music that’s bold, fresh and undeniably accessible. He not only plays with authority, but also he plays with a rare authenticity that Blue Note is brilliant for capturing in historic recordings such as Spirit Fiction.
According to Coltrane, “The title Spirit Fiction is an abstract turn of phrase that came out of a stream of consciousness. The phrase seemed to mesh with the layered, superimposed nature of the title track. It also felt like a gentle indicator of the ‘science’ involved in recording that track. In some ways, it ultimately refers to the open ended idea of simply embracing imagination.”
The Spirit Fiction playlist:
1. Roads Cross
3. Spirit Fiction
4. The Change, My Girl
5. Who Wants Ice Cream
6. Spring & Hudson
7. Cross Roads
8. Yellow Cat
9. Check Out Time
11 Marilyn & Tammy
Robin James welcomes reader responses to jameson firstname.lastname@example.org.