JOHN COLTRANE towers in the jazz world; John Coltrane is “Trane.” His son, Ravi, also a jazz saxophonist whose Blending Times has been released is not-nor ever will be-simply “Trane.”
Still, his surname comes with undeniable gravitas, tied not only to his father but also to his mother, Alice Coltrane, who was a significant innovator in her own right. Alice died in 2007, just a few years after Ravi played a pivotal role in her return to recording after a 26-year hiatus.
[pullquote]Blending Times is good, not great. Some songs are quite beautiful. “Shine” is a stunner. Others make for challenging listening-the five improvisations credited as “conceived and directed by Ravi Coltrane” fit here-but it is not so much a blend as an assortment. And the final track, “For Turiya,” written by bassist Charlie Haden for Ravi’s mother in 1976, and featuring a performance by Haden himself, is lovely.
Ravi Coltrane was only two years old when his father succumbed to liver cancer in 1967. He was raised and shaped by his mother. More than simply dedicated to his mother’s memory, Blending Times includes a pledge: “My offering to her memory and to her meaning extends from this album forward. I will spend the rest of my creative life humbly honoring her spirit.”
Biblical narratives remind us that succession can be tough but not impossible. Think of Paul, reduced to nothing on the road to Damascus, and utterly reliant on spiritual fathers and mothers he had once persecuted. He places himself under their spiritual parentage, before emerging with his own voice not just intact but soaring. As an apostle, Paul is a master of extended solos and explosive improvisations. Yes, he’s indebted to those who shaped him but not fenced in by that debt.
There’s a hint of what is possible when those two things are balanced, this time on a free online recording of a Ravi Coltrane concert from New York’s Village Vanguard jazz club at www.npr.org. On this one, he’s found his voice, everything comes together and it is very good. On this one, it blends.
Jamie Howison is the founding pastor of saint benedict’s table, an alternative liturgical community in the diocese of Rupert’s Land.