Like father, like son
Coltrane heir hugely talented Ravi's latest CD garnered raves

Toronto Star Review, May 18, 2006 (
by Ashante Infantry

He inherited the name and the face, but Ravi Coltrane earned the chops.

The second son of saxophone icon John Coltrane has established himself as a top-notch musician; playing tenor and soprano sax, mainly in a quartet setting like his late father, but with a sound influenced more by the legendary horns of Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson and less by inevitability.

"I'm not going to say I was destined to be a musician, because there was a time where I wanted to do something else," said Coltrane, 40, on the phone from the Brooklyn, N.Y., home he shares with his wife and two sons. With the month-old youngest crying in the background, the performer is as playful and earnest as his recordings in conversation about his career and rare Toronto appearance this weekend at the inaugural Art of Jazz Celebration in the Distillery District.

Following her 40-year-old husband's death of liver cancer in 1967, pianist Alice Coltrane moved with their four children from New York to California. Exposure to his mother's ceaseless playing and his father's classic recordings meant young Ravi (named for the sitar master who inspired his parents) was musically adept — although he found clarinet and saxophone lessons enjoyable, but not compelling.

"I wanted to be a filmmaker, but in retrospect I think even that was tied to music, because I was a fan of film scores. Through that I got into the technical side of filmmaking and thought about going to film school, either to direct movies or write music for movies."

However, when older brother John Jr. was killed in a 1982 car accident, the despairing youth began to listen more keenly to his father's work and became immersed in jazz. After studying improvisation at the California Institute of the Arts he toured with his father's one-time drummer Elvin Jones and went on to establish himself as a sideman for the likes of jazz vets Wallace Roney, Steve Coleman and Jack DeJohnette before releasing his first album Moving Pictures in 1998.

Coltrane's recent album In Flux is his first featuring a working band, comprised of Luis Perdomo (piano), Drew Gress (bass), and Ed Strickland (drums). The disc, its offerings both free and melodic, garnered wide acclaim and the saxist's first Grammy nomination. Of his four albums, it's the one he loves best. The title, he explains, denotes growth rather than uncertainty.

"It's a record that features a band of guys that I feel really happy to work with and we've been able to cultivate a sound over several years. To me that's an important component to change; when you have a group of people that work together constantly over a long period of time, you end up evolving more quickly.

"In Flux is kind of a representation of that idea. A lot of the greatest advances in jazz have been made within collectives: Diz and Bird, or Miles and John Coltrane, or Monk and John Coltrane. You can do a lot on your own, but when you have the support of a unit, it really spurs things on significantly."

The album opens with "The Message," an enchanting duet between Coltrane and pianist Perdomo, with whom he'll perform here on Sunday.

"He's a very well-rounded musician. Doing the duet with him you may as well be doing it with a whole band. His harmonic knowledge, his rhythmic knowledge is very rich. With a night of duets I think there will be a lot of different places to go to, a lot of possibilities for contrast."

Among Coltrane's six original compositions on In Flux is "Dear Alice," a tribute to his mom whom he corralled into a studio in 2004 to produce Translinear Light, her first recording in 26 years.

"Making her album was the high point so far of my life as a musician," said Coltrane, who also produced last year's One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note, from a 1965 radio broadcast of the John Coltrane Quartet that he unearthed in his mother's closet.

The artist, who also runs a modest record label, RKM Music, which has put out records by Perdomo, trumpeter Ralph Alessi and sax player Michael McGinnis, hasn't given up on the movie business.

"It's a childhood dream that hasn't really gone away. I have great love and even envy for some of the jazz musicians that have gone on to start writing for films, or even just writing in a broader sense for chamber orchestras and classical orchestras. Maybe someday I'll get to that."