Spirit Fiction, Ravi Coltrane’s debut album for Blue Note, showcases his elusive yet humble nature on the saxophone — with his freely flowing stream of consciousness leading the way.
As the picture on the cover suggests, Ravi’s improvisations throughout the album are like an evasive shadow moving in various directions. We are constantly chasing him — weaving through an unknown forest, following his lead. Once we think that we’ve caught up to him, he’s moved in a new direction, creating a continually engaging and unpredictable journey.
Spirit Fiction features two distinct lineups: Coltrane’s usual quartet with Luis Perdomo (piano), Drew Gress (bass) and E.J. Strickland (drums), and a quintet featuring Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Geri Allen (piano), James Genus (bass) and Eric Harland (drums). In addition, Coltrane’s long-time colleague, Joe Lovano, who co-produced the album, appears on two of the album’s tracks. Every musician that Coltrane has chosen has previously proven to have their own musical identity, and combined within these separate lineups, they produce a unique blend of musical colors.
On the opening track, “Roads Cross,” Coltrane and Perdomo play seemingly unrelated themes simultaneously, as if we are watching a split screen movie with two separate characters partaking in two unrelated storylines. Then, halfway through the tune, these two musicians find one another, breaking through the split screen, only to eventually drift apart once more.
On “Klepto” (one of Ralph Adessi’s compositions), Ravi’s solo is in many ways unpredictable: He never holds onto a musical idea for long, leaving us always guessing where he is going to next and pleasantly surprising us with the result. We get much of the same from Adessi and Geri Allen’s solos. This constant shift in musical direction will grab at your ear, making it difficult to listen to solely as background music.
Meanwhile, Ravi’s calm and humble persona comes across so clearly on “The Change, My Girl.” His tone can be so gentle and soft, that even when he hits the highest notes — where he’s screeching in the altissimo register — he still manages to instill a level of comfort in the listener.
As the title suggests, “Who Wants Ice Cream,” is light-hearted in nature. Coltrane and Adessi exchange ideas in an often exuberant and jovial manner followed by Allen’s fun-loving solo, all of which may at times bring you to chuckle.
Joe Lovano joins Ravi and Geri Allen to form a trio on Paul Motian’s “Fantasm” — a very contemplative yet ethereally beautiful tune, with Allen’s integral accompaniment exuding her accustomed enlightening beauty. It is important to mention that Paul Motian had passed away only a month or so before Spirit Fiction’s recording dates. We can only imagine, throughout the melancholic tones of Coltrane and Lovano, how Motion must have been in all of the musician’s thoughts while recording this song.
With Spirit Fiction, it is clear: Ravi Coltrane is his own man, with a unique and distinct sound highlighted by an almost wizard-like ability to tweak and manipulate the music so that it becomes a joyous and often times celebratory experience.