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March 2009

Ravi Coltrane
Blending Times
Savoy

An air of impulsive surrender suffuses this music, as if Ravi Coltrane aimed to embody Lennie Tristano’s musical philosophy of intuition and feeling. From E.J. Strickland’s cascading, rainstick-like drumming and Drew Gress’ malleable bass lines, to Luis Perdomo’s delicate, pastoral piano and the leader’s accomplished yet self-effacing tenor saxophone, the band adopts mindfulness as a method. The CD’s several collective improvisations—“conceived and directed” by Coltrane, according to the liner info—are less examples of free-form incoherence than they are of spontaneous composition, be they backbeat-oriented (“Narcined”), high-energy/free (“First Circuit”) or sparse and balladic (“Before With After”).

As for pieces composed in a more traditional sense, Coltrane favors harmonic and rhythmic ambiguity, both in his own tunes and those he covers by others (Monk’s “Epistrophy” among them). Coltrane’s playing reflects some ambiguity, as well. The swaggering self-assuredness that characterizes many saxophonists of his generation is absent. Instead, he exhibits a vulnerability that’s refreshing to behold. That’s not to say he doesn’t have chops, or that he lacks a sure vision. He’s simply more interested in connecting with people (his bandmates and audience) than running over them, which is a commendable trait. In this case, it’s resulted in some very appealing music.

Originally published in March 2009
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