Heir apparent

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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 (1998’s Moving Pictures on RCA). Who wouldn’t want to defer all those "can’t 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 artist’s innovations could extend jazz’s possibilities, his son is doing his best during a period of recapitulation, of trying to find one’s voice in a medium already formed and abundantly investigated.

It ain’t easy. There are times on From the Round Box, a quintet date, when influence starts to yield impersonation, when trumpeter Ralph Alessi’s fondness for full-bodied glissando starts to sound a little too much like Freddie Hubbard (circa his work on Maiden Voyage) and pianist Geri Allen’s 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.

It’s 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. It’s 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 doesn’t sound like he’s gotten where he’s 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 letters@metrotimes.com.

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