Man, talk about the anxiety of influence just imagine the slabs of inhibition Ravi Coltrane, son of John, must have had to bust through simply to pick up a tenor saxophone, let alone take it on stage. No wonder he waited until he was in his 30s to record as a leader (1998s Moving Pictures on RCA). Who wouldnt want to defer all those "cant touch his dad" reviews? Of course Ravi, like his father, is a child of his times, and if John Coltrane flourished during that last decade when a single artists innovations could extend jazzs possibilities, his son is doing his best during a period of recapitulation, of trying to find ones voice in a medium already formed and abundantly investigated.
It aint easy. There are times on From the Round Box, a quintet date, when influence starts to yield impersonation, when trumpeter Ralph Alessis fondness for full-bodied glissando starts to sound a little too much like Freddie Hubbard (circa his work on Maiden Voyage) and pianist Geri Allens impressionistic drip-drop approach a little too much like mid-60s Herbie Hancock. As for Ravi, he only really channels his father once, emitting A Love Supreme-type cries during his original "The Chartreuse Mean," favoring for the most part a sort of amalgam of Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson, of eccentric probing and post-bop swing.
Its a familiar approach, but what Coltrane has that a lot of other saxophonists of his generation lack is a certain gravitas, an authoritative (but not brooding) seriousness which sounds unstudied and which nudges his rhythm section into inspirational flights. Its an elusive quality call it "inner sobriety" but on the slower selections it steers him away from mere prettiness and in the grappling stretches suggests a wisdom waiting to unfold. On tenor he doesnt sound like hes gotten where hes going, on soprano he can sound nearly generic but he is beginning to sound like a natural heir.
Richard C. Walls writes about film and music for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].