Album Remarks & Appraisals:
In case you were confused by the start of Spirit Fiction, the new album by saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, here's a hint: Think in twos. He divides his quartet in half, sets both duos loose on their own paths and aims for their intersection. It's a scheme for improvising: "A real energy and wholeness, hopefully.
The quartet sessions are a bit more adventurous and, sonically, more pumped-up; the quintets are more melodic and sound more stripped-down realistic. But the album as a whole is no mishmash; its various angles come off more like a prism, refracting the same rays of light. And it sounds very good.
All About Jazz
Coltrane's penchant for this type of thoughtful experimentation has been consistent over his career. With Spirit Fiction, however, he has taken the approach to a new level, deploying an array of recording techniques, compositional approaches, and "process" contexts. The result is an album of great diversity and, considering its quite cerebral architecture, of surprising delicacy and gentleness of feeling.
The Washington Post
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.
There is certainly an enormous amount of imagination on this album. Coltrane and Alessi, who co-wrote a majority of the compositions create a scientific pattern of creativity that will both enlighten and entertain you.
On closer "Marilyn & Tammy," Coltrane's soprano reveals his father's influence in the building of arpeggios, yet the sense of compositional mapmaking is his own. Spirit Fiction is a confident next step for the saxophonist; its execution and ambition offer a glance at where he's been, but more importantly, a solid look at where he's going.
Praised for his music's "elusive beauty" (DownBeat), and for his "style informed by tradition but not encumbered by it" (Philadelphia City Paper), saxophonist and composer Ravi Coltrane takes a bold step in his creative journey with Spirit Fiction, his Blue Note Records debut .
The 11-track album features two different band lineups, each with a unique expressive urgency. Several tracks feature Coltrane's long-term quartet with pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Drew Gress and drummer E.J. Strickland. Coltrane also enlisted a quintet featuring trumpeter Ralph Alessi, pianist Geri Allen, bassist James Genus and drummer Eric Harland - the personnel featured on his sophomore release From the Round Box.
According to Coltrane, "The title, Spirit Fiction is an abstract turn of phrase that came out of a stream of consciousness. The phrase seemed to mesh with the layered, superimposed nature of the title track. It also felt like a gentle indicator of the 'science' involved in recording that track. In some ways, it ultimately refers to the open ended idea of simply embracing imagination."
Coltrane's label mate and fellow saxophonist Joe Lovano served as co-producer of the album along with Coltrane. Lovano also plays alongside Coltrane and Allen on Paul Motian's "Fantasm" and joins the quintet for an explosive version of Ornette Coleman's "Check Out Time." Spiri t Fiction also includes six original compositions by Coltrane and three by Alessi.
Billboard (p.48) - "Compositionally, Coltrane favors themes that recall the post-modal styles of father John, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. His modern twist is in their use: keeping themes short and improvisations long."
Personnel: Ravi Coltrane (soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone).
Liner Note Author: Joe Lovano.
Photographer: Darlene DeVita.
Despite the metaphysical suggestion in Spirit Fiction's title, this is Ravi Coltrane's most cerebral, process-oriented recording to date. This does not mean, however, that his debut offering for Blue Note Records is dry or academic. There is an abundance of emotion and sensual detail, most of it expressed gently, with the confidence -- and authority -- of a veteran bandleader. Coltrane employs two lineups on the date. First is his longstanding quartet with pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer E.J. Strickland. The other is the quintet that appeared on 2000's Round Box: trumpeter Ralph Alessi, pianist Geri Allen, bassist James Genus, and drummer Eric Harland. Coltrane composed six pieces for this session and Alessi, three. There are also readings of Ornette Coleman's "Check Out Time" and Paul Motian's "Fantasm." Spirit Fiction was produced by saxophonist Joe Lovano, who appears on cover tunes. Coltrane's vision of process gets a bold workup here on three tunes. "Roads Cross" is jarring at first, head-to-head knotty, yet it jells about two minutes in. Here and on the seventh cut, conversely named "Cross Roads," the feel is similar. This is because the quartet was recorded as two separate duos playing the tune simultaneously and then mixing them together. The title track offers a further exploration of this technique, but this time, the duos recorded the piece separately and were dubbed on top of one another. In each case, Coltrane's process theory -- using the studio as a fifth member -- actually creates additional strategic possibilities not only of color and texture, but for improvisation. Other highlights are more organic in approach, the gorgeous original ballad "The Change, My Girl" provides a delicate, intricate Coltrane solo full of grace and elegance. Alessi's "Klepto" is a solid, swinging, post-bop groover. On the trumpeter's "Yellow Cat," Coltrane displays his exceptionally well-developed skills as an accompanist. The interplay between Lovano and Coltrane on "Check Out Time" is instinctive, full of delightful dialogue, and a fine contrast in harmonic ideas with stellar playing by Allen. On closer "Marilyn & Tammy," Coltrane's soprano reveals his father's influence in the building of arpeggios, yet the sense of compositional mapmaking is his own. Spirit Fiction is a confident next step for the saxophonist; its execution and ambition offer a glance at where he's been, but more importantly, a solid look at where he's going. ~ Thom Jurek
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