Two formidable, famous-name saxophonists
Author: Jay Harvey
Date: July 9, 2012
Branford Marsalis and Ravi Coltrane both have new CDs out. With the oldest Marsalis brother, you have to get past the flippant false modesty of the title of this quartet disc: “Four MFs Playin’ Tunes” (Marsalis Music). With Ravi, the remarkably independent son of the most revered post-bop saxophonist, you aren’t asked to react to any display of attitude in order to focus on the music (“Spirit Fiction,” Blue Note).
To take up the Marsalis quartet first, rarely will you encounter such fervent rapport that seems so open-hearted to different kinds of expression. There’s propulsive updated bop to get things rolling (“The Mighty Sword”), close-grained, witty tributes (Monk in “Teo,” with Marsalis doing Charlie Rouse, Sonny Rollins’ prismatic way with standards in “My Ideal” ), poised, haunting ballads (“Maestra” and “As Summer Into Autumn Slips”) and exuberant, fecund virtuosity (“Whiplash” and the Ornettish “Endymion”).
Longtime pianist colleague Joey Calderazzo helps keep the lyricism intact; the love of tunes underlies everything the two kindred spirits play. Eric Revis is an adept, slightly self-effacing bassist, but it’s no doubt the better part of valor not to crowd the Joey-Branford duopoly. Youngster Justin Faulkner on drums is imaginative for such a powerhouse; his churning solo on “Whiplash” is among the disc’s highlights.
Co-produced by Joe Lovano, “Spirit Fiction” has a title track that encapsulates Ravi Coltrane’s mature but less intense spiritual centeredness, as compared to his father’s. His soft-focus sound is appealing; the long-unfolding lines never strain for effect.
He has two bands working with him here, each with a pianist as receptive to his playing as Calderazzo is to Marsalis. Luis Perdomo shoots out streamers and flares, permitting enough space between to allow the Coltrane blooms to flourish. Geri Allen plays a more gnomic role, dispensing a wisdom one would be tempted to call earth-motherly if that didn’t sound sexist.
Ralph Alessi is on hand for some tracks with his agile, dry-martini trumpet. The contrast of two strong bassists– Drew Gress and James Genus– serves the program well. Throughout Ravi Coltrane proves himself to be a master of dialogue; one gets the feeling he would sound good with anybody, even players much less expert than those whose company he enjoys on “Spirit Fiction.”