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Ravi Coltrane: Mad 6

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The literary critic Harold Bloom once argued, in a galvanizing text called The Anxiety of Influence, that great poets achieve their greatness only after deliberately distorting their forbears’ contributions. So a true artist takes canonical works and disfigures them, through a process of “creative misprision.” In jazz, think of Charlie Parker digesting Lester Young-or John Coltrane wrestling with the long shadow of Parker. Or, unavoidably, think of Ravi Coltrane, who at 37 years old continues to contend with the formidable legacy of a father he hardly knew.

The elder Coltrane passed away just before the younger turned two; Ravi came to Trane as most of us did, through records. Perhaps partially as a result, the tenor and soprano saxophonist owes an equal debt to other muses, Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter chief among them. And like the best of his contemporaries, Coltrane has subjected his influences to new interpretations. Moving Pictures, his 1998 RCA Victor debut, included a 7/8 funk translation of Henderson’s “Inner Urge.” His next RCA album, 2000’s From the Round Box, featured a take on Shorter’s “Blues a la Carte.” Now comes Mad 6, with Coltrane’s highest ratio of standards to originals, and his most purposeful misappropriations yet.

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