In the liner notes to his Grammy-nominated CD, In Flux (Savoy Jazz, 2005), tenor and soprano saxophonist Ravi Coltrane thanks his teachers at the California Institute of the Arts (who included Charlie Haden, James Newton, Paul Novros and David Roitstein) for conveying the importance of pursuing a personal approach.
His teachers will be happy to know that Coltrane took their teaching to heart and has developed a confident, distinctively lush sound on his tenor, an eloquence in his compositions and a free-flowing thoughtfulness in his playing that mark him as an original creative force in jazz.
Coltrane brings his telepathic quartet—featuring Luis Perdomo (piano), Hans Glawischnig (bass) and E. J. Strickland (drums)—to Albuquerque at the Outpost on Thursday and Friday, and to Santa Fe at the Friends of Santa Fe Jazz on Saturday.
While in school, like any student, Coltrane worked hard at learning the great players, like Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, John Coltrane (his father) and others. “Obviously, they were the masters, and their work is something that’s going to help us, inform us in our work,” says Coltrane.
But he found himself formulaically inserting their material into his improvisations. “It wasn’t really improvising, it was the management of licks,” he says. His teachers suggested a different approach.
“At some point, you begin to kind of give in to yourself.”
“The one thing they harped upon was finding this personal direction,” he says. “Learning it from the record and playing it exactly like the record is great for the information, but at some point, yes, you have to find your own way of dealing with that information. ... Imitation is not creation.”
“At some point, you begin to kind of give in to yourself,” he says, though it’s challenging to step off into the unknown. Over time, “the sources become less defined and clear because they’re all kind of blending into your style, your playing, your approach.”
One important influence was saxophonist/composer Steve Coleman, whom Coltrane met in 1992 and whose music he “just didn’t get” right away.
“Most of the great music we study and revere and love today happens in a very simple format, four/four,” he says. “Suddenly, I was hearing these other kinds of forms, different meters and different structures. That was intriguing to me.”
He eventually toured with Coleman, who fired him after the tour. “I realized I wasn’t really dealing with his music. ... I was having a hard time playing it. It took me about a year for it to make sense under my fingers.”
Later, the two hooked up and played together again. “At that point, I started realizing that it was affecting my own playing. I was gaining a newer flexibility in regard to rhythm.”
For many listeners, Coltrane put it all together on In Flux, which was widely praised and whose track “Away” won Coltrane a Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Jazz Solo. From impressionistic color (“Leaving Avignon”) to intense emotion (“For Zoë”) to a rhythmic layer cake (“Blending Times”), In Flux presents an accomplished quartet (with Perdomo, Strickland and bassist Drew Gress) that is deeply in synch.
After In Flux, Coltrane coaxed his mother, Alice, back into the studio for the first time in 26 years, producing the stunning CD Translinear Light and nearly completing another project before her untimely death in early 2007.
“Losing my mother, everything sort of got back-burnered,” he says, but he does have a new recording in the can with the In Flux quartet and will be playing some of the new material this week.
Whatever the material, count on the music being personal, affecting and original.