In Flux

Since launching his solo career with the critically acclaimed debut recording Moving Pictures in 1998, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane has kept up a breakneck pace in creating his own unique niche as one of today’s most innovative jazz artists. In Flux is his Savoy Jazz debut (and fourth solo release overall). It’s a musically diverse, rhythmically eclectic work chronicling for the first time the ongoing adventures of his two year old quartet with pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Drew Gress and drummer E.J. Strickland. The ensemble has kept up a joyfully relentless U.S. and European tour schedule garnering critical accolades across the board for their unique musical voice.

While his last recording, Mad 6 (2003), was geared around the loose concept of playing favorites from that band’s book, Coltrane this time had another criteria: strong compositions that brought out the most exciting facets of the quartet’s sound and style. “We had many ideas and attempted a lot of different music. The goal, of course, was to find things that felt good and that could work together as a whole,” he says. In Flux features six of Ravi’s original compositions as well as new contributions from each player, in addition to an expansive twist on Wayne Shorter’s “United” featuring ample solo time for all. Coltrane plays tenor on all but two tracks.

In Flux was recorded in a relaxed way deliberately patterned after the way albums were made by legends like Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and others.

“I’ve always wanted to record a record this way – booking less time in the studio with the goal of recording 2 or 3 songs per session. Remove some of the pressures from the way most jazz dates are recorded, having more time to reflect on the pieces without stressing about getting to the next thing and the next thing.

Working bands can afford to record this way – when you make a record with players hired only for that date, because of scheduling you have little choice but to roll in, knock the record out in a day or two, and roll out. These were ideas not only borrowed from how some older jazz dates were recorded – much of the new Alice Coltrane album was recorded this way –not because a working band was involved but because my mother doesn’t care to do it any other way. She’s most comfortable being in the studio no more than a few hours at a time. Ultimately, I believe this approach can positively effect the music.”

Ravi launches the disc with the brief piano/tenor sax prologue “The Message” before showcasing his soprano on “Coincide,” an uptempo piece that’s equal parts propulsive drive and playful twisting rhythms. Coltrane’s goal was to balance, “compositional and melodic driven free jazz,” for the pure spontaneity and free form energy of “Variations 3” before easing into Drew Gress’ calm, floating ballad “Away,” which is one of the saxman’s favorite tunes on the album. “Leaving Avignon,” Ravi says, “shifts within various subdivisions of 5/4 time”. It is a short vamp-driven piece using new chords on the intro/outro of Ravi’s composition “Avignon,” a notable track on Mad 6.

The cool and unexpected rhythms of guest percussionist Luisito Quintero spur the spontaneous, loop-based “Blending Times,” which leads into “Dear Alice,” a sensitive, thoughtful ballad Ravi first wrote for his mother as a be-bop piece when he was a student at the California Institute of the Arts in 1986. The quartet follows E.J. Strickland’s heavily syncopated modern jazz piece “Angular Realms” with “Scram Vamp,” an energetic romp composed by Luis Perdomo. “Variations 1” of course is another “variation” on the structured improv form that produced “Variations 3”, after which Coltrane (on soprano) and company dig in heartily on Wayne Shorter’s “United.” The set closes with the reflective “For Zoe,” dedicated to the late Zoe Anglesey, a friend and longtime supporter of Ravi who was the first person to interview him when he began playing with Elvin Jones in 1991.

Within a year of hooking up with Jones, Coltrane relocated to New York City and began playing with many of today’s top contemporary jazz performers—Jack DeJohnette, Rashied Ali, Wallace Roney, Antoine Roney, Geri Allen, Kenny Barron, Cindy Blackman, Joe Lovano, Joanne Brackeen, Graham Haynes and Steve Coleman (a particular influence on the budding saxman with whom Ravi both toured and recorded).
Many of Ravi Coltrane’s fans find it ironic that he only began entertaining the idea of a professional musical career in his early 20s, when he studied the saxophone at Cal Arts. Born on Long Island in 1965, Ravi—named after Indian musical legend Ravi Shankar--was two when his father died yet was raised by Alice in Los Angeles in a home full of dad’s legacy and a host of other popular music of the day, jazz and otherwise. Alice Coltrane was a huge influence, playing piano and organ at home and taking her children to her performances and studio dates. In addition to John’s recordings, the younger Coltrane was inspired by all the great soul music of the era (from James Brown, Stevie Wonder and Motown to Earth, Wind & Fire) and later delved into Prince, The Beatles and symphonic music by Stravinsky and Dvorak.

“I heard lots of music growing up. I, of course, gravitated to music my peers were listening to. Social music, fun music, dance music. Jazz was something I always appreciated but I had to reach my late teens and go through profound family changes before the music became a dominant force in my life.”

Steve Coleman produced and guested on Coltrane’s first solo recording, 1998’s Moving Pictures, which also featured trumpeter Ralph Alessi (now an artist on Ravi’s RKM Music label, formed in 2002). The success of his debut led to assembling his first touring group, which traveled widely throughout North America and Europe. In 2000, a year after marrying Kathleen Hennessy and having their first son, William, the saxophonist released the even more warmly received From the Round Box, which featured Alessi and Geri Allen and included tunes by Thelonius Monk, Ornette Coleman and Wayne Shorter. Prior to the release of his third solo outing Mad 6, Ravi produced Legacy, a four-disc, thematic study of his father’s career for Verve, and co-produced and penned liner notes for the Deluxe Edition repackaging of the benchmark recording A Love Supreme. Coltrane plays an ongoing role as family archivist of his father’s unreleased material and is working on future releases.

Prior to finishing In Flux, Ravi produced and played on his mother’s solo recording, Translinear Light—her first in over 26 years. It’s a much-heralded return to the jazz world for the deeply spiritual Alice Coltrane and adds to the rich musical legacy of the Coltrane family.

Ravi Coltrane’s RKM Music is a web-based independent label specializing in documenting and distributing music from the American improvised music tradition. The company’s goal is to create recordings that not only look and sound great but that also capture exactly what the artist intended for the listener to hear. In addition to already released projects by Alessi and saxophonist Michael McGinnis, RKM is gearing up for new recordings by Luis Perdomo, guitarist David Gilmore and poet Julie Patton.

Faced with the contradictions inherent in balancing the forward-looking demands of the creative artist and label owner with the historical focus of the archivist, Ravi Coltrane sees these two sides of himself as natural. In life, in the studio and on stage, he regards the past as a jumping off point for new exploration, and his music perpetually In Flux.

“I want to be involved with music that is truly honest - that’s not trying to follow trends or fit into someone’s idea about what jazz ‘is’. For Bird, Miles, Monk, Coltrane, and Wayne Shorter, I hold the highest level of appreciation because their love and knowledge of tradition was never greater than their need to follow their own path. The need to be themselves. This is my goal - my aspiration - to acknowledge with love my influences while attempting a move forward – to be open and receptive to shifts in the musical terrain - to make music that is relevant to my present day experience”.