Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the first name of trumpeter Ralph Alessi. This version has been corrected.
Ravi Coltrane knows how to make a strong first impression. By deploying two duos to create an improvised quartet arrangement in which musical paths diverge and intersect, the veteran saxophonist has listeners hearing double when the curtain goes up on his Blue Note label debut, “Spirit Fiction.”
Much of what follows “Roads Cross,” the album’s opening track, is similarly intriguing. That’s true whether the tenor/soprano player is unveiling something new — an original piece or a distinctive tune composed by trumpeter/session mate Ralph Alessi — or saluting legendary innovator Ornette Coleman and the late drummer Paul Motian.
As a member of the Blue Note 7, Coltrane previously recorded for the storied label, and there are family ties. (His father, jazz titan John Coltrane, recorded the 1957 Blue Note classic “Blue Train.”) But Coltrane clearly views his leader role on “Spirit Fiction” as the start of something big. No doubt that’s why he enlisted saxophonist and Blue Note luminary Joe Lovano as his co-producer. Frequent collaborators, the two reedmen swiftly elevate the album’s contrasting, back-to-back tributes. Coleman’s “Check Out Time” is brash and rhythmically taut, while Motian’s “Fantasm” is tailored for two tenors and pianist Geri Allen’s spectral touch.
The album also colorfully juxtaposes performances by Coltrane’s working quartet, featuring pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Drew Gress and drummer E.J. Stickland, with quintet arrangements that generously showcase Allen, Alessi, bassist James Genus and drummer Eric Harland. The common denominator is Coltrane, of course, always engaged and often sounding inspired.
Coltrane will perform at Bohemian Caverns on Friday and Saturday.
“Spirit Fiction,” “Check Out Time”