Ravi Coltrane seeks spontaneity with new group

After a decade of working with the same quartet, Ravi Coltrane decided to change things up this year

After a decade of working with the same quartet, Ravi Coltrane decided to change things up this year.

Since 2002, the jazz saxophonist — and son of the legendary John Coltrane and pianist Alice Coltrane — has established himself as a bandleader with a group featuring pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Drew Gress and drummer E.J. Strickland.

The quartet is featured on the 2005 album “In Flux” and 2009’s “Blending Times,” albums that helped push Coltrane out from under his father’s intimidating legacy and into the jazz spotlight in his own right.

Ravi Coltrane

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Picotte Recital Hall, Massry Center for the Arts at The College of Saint Rose, 1002 Madison Ave., Albany

How Much: $25

More Info: 337-4871, www.strose.edu/concerts

New quartet

When he heads to the Massry Center at The College of Saint Rose in Albany tonight, it will be with an entirely different quartet featuring guitarist David Gilmore, bassist Lonnie Plaxico and drummer Nate Smith. They’re musicians that Coltrane has played with before — Gilmore and Plaxico since the late 1990s, and Smith only one other time.

“You get this beautiful consistency when you’re doing something with the same players over and over again,” Coltrane said from his home in Brooklyn. “But there’s also some things that you miss out on — those moments, those unexpected moments; the spontaneity that comes from not knowing the players like the back of your hand. I’m using this year to kind of reintroduce myself to that, getting out of my comfort zone a little bit, if you will.”

He was last in Albany in September 2010 for the Riverfront Jazz Festival, accompanied by the usual quartet. This time out, audiences can expect a much different set featuring new material and arrangements to go with the different players.

Common ground

“I’m trying to find a nice common ground for all the players involved,” he said. “You do have an opportunity to shape a repertoire towards the players you’re picking in your band. Tunes that felt good for the last group might not feel good with a different group, so it’s a good opportunity to explore different players and also some different repertoire as well.”

Of course, he is no stranger to playing with pickup bands. By 1997 he had already appeared on more than 30 recordings as a sideman, with artists ranging from Carlos Santana to Herbie Hancock, before he even released his first album, 1998’s “Moving Pictures,” as a leader. His first few albums also featured a revolving cast of players — after 2002’s “Mad 6” he put together his main quartet.

This spring, he will be releasing his sixth studio album as a leader, tentatively titled “Spirit Fiction.”

The album was recorded in two sessions, the first last February with the long-running quartet. For the second session, in December, Coltrane reunited with the quintet featured on his second album, 2000’s “From the Round Box” — pianist Geri Allen, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, bassist James Genus and drummer Eric Harland.

More open sound

“The quintet, it has a different sound — more sort of an open sound, a little bit of an off-the-cuff sound,” he said. “These are players — Geri Allen I’ve been playing with since the ’90s, and Ralph Alessi since the ’80s. James Genus is on my second record and my third record, and he’s on my mother’s last Impulse! [Records] album, ‘Translinear Light’ [released in 2004 and produced by Coltrane].”

The sessions with the quintet were not so much about revisiting the past, but rather revisiting the sound of that specific band alongside Coltrane’s more recent and more mature songwriting.

“That was an energy from the second record that I liked — I liked the energy more than the material,” he said. “That’s a personal opinion of mine, but I felt maybe it would be nice to revisit that energy and that sound — that very specific sound you get when you have Geri Allen, that very specific groove with James Genus and Eric Harland. And Ralph Alessi is more like a co-collaborator — we play a lot of Ralph’s tunes, so his energy is completely in there as well.”

By now, Coltrane has built a strong reputation as a composer and instrumentalist. But his famous father has had a heavy influence on his own musical direction, despite the fact that he doesn’t remember him (John Coltrane died in 1967, when his son was only 2).

The younger Coltrane began playing clarinet in junior high school, but switched to tenor and soprano saxophone — the preferred instruments of his father — in his early 20s. A musical omnivore with tastes running from rock to classical to funk, Coltrane eventually began focusing on jazz more seriously after high school.

“I never heard music in — cut up in styles or genres; it was always just music to me,” he said. “The jazz music I heard growing up always felt good to me; it always felt cool. At some point in my life, that particular music just began to resonate with me, and started to sort of pull me in a direction I couldn’t recognize as a younger person.”

His father’s recordings played a big role in this. “His music was like a door opened up for me,” Coltrane said.

being himself

The comparisons to John Coltrane have come up over the years, though less often as Coltrane has progressed as an artist. But it’s not something that he dwells on.

“I’m just me doing my thing, and how I’m viewed or how my work is viewed, that’s sort of — I won’t say it’s beyond my control completely,” he said.

“But again, I’m striving to be myself. That doesn’t mean I’m running away from anything or running towards anything. I’m just being me, and hopefully people ultimately will recognize or can recognize that.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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