Music

Ravi Coltrane: Mad 6

John Kenyon

Ravi Coltrane

Mad 6

Label: Columbia
US Release Date: 2003-04-15
UK Release Date: 2003-04-28
Amazon
iTunes

Ravi Coltrane has an unbelievable mantle to bear in his career as a jazz saxophonist, perhaps the weightiest possible. Miles Davis doesn't have a son, at least not an acknowledged one in the jazz game, Joshua Redman's father, Dewey, was nowhere near the star John Coltrane was, and players like T.S. Monk perhaps wisely steered clear of the instruments that brought their fathers success. So Coltrane is it.

On his first two CDs, Moving Pictures and From the Round Box, Coltrane sounded fine. He wasn't trying to mimic his father's "Sheets of Sound" approach, but instead offered competent, well-felt playing that more than justified his major label recording contract. Still, those records were nothing special, too well mannered really to spark much devotion in the hearts of listeners. A few moments here or there seemed to hint at a fire within, but nothing really to latch onto, nothing to pique the interest. Coltrane seemed to be settling into that place populated by so many younger jazz performers, ready to crank out disc after disc of tunes that sound roughly the same, playing the festival circuit each summer to pad the bottom line.

Seeing Coltrane perform live around the time of From the Round Box's release, then, was a revelation. The streak of improvisation and energy that was missing from those records was on display in abundance on stage. It wasn't just the usual spark that a live performance can bring; it was something more, as if Coltrane had been shackled during those recording sessions. The band locked into a groove on stage, and Coltrane rode the crest of that wave through jaw-dropping solos that easily eclipsed the best his recorded output had to offer. Where the discs seemed to offer the kind of performance a musician might think is expected, the live show offered the kind of performance Coltrane felt, the marketplace be damned.

With Mad 6, Coltrane's recordings have caught up with his live show. Credit the guiding hand of producer Yasohachi "88" Itoh. Itoh, a Japanese jazz producer, is curating a new subsidiary of Columbia Records, the aptly named Eighty-eights. Discs released on the imprint are recorded with an audiophile's care, live with no overdubs. That certainly recreates the spontaneity of a live show, and that translates well to disc on these 10 tunes.

Coltrane recorded the disc with two different groups, each offering complementary support and creativity. The first features George Colligan on piano and Darryl Hall on bass; the second has James Genus on bass and Andy Milne on piano. Steve Hass plays drums throughout. The disc was recorded over two days at Avatar Studio in New York.

Coltrane plays tenor and soprano saxophone throughout, soloing mightily throughout a set of hard-swinging tunes that mixes originals and covers. He bravely takes on two of his father's compositions, "26-2" and "Fifth House", as well as Mingus's "Self Portrait in Three Colors", Monk's "Ask Me Now", and the chestnut "Round Midnight". All are ably rendered, but more importantly, he makes then his own, the well-known songs fitting seamlessly among his own compositions.

Some of this swings like mad, particularly Jimmy Heath's "Gingerbread Boy", a tune on which Coltrane's soloing seems endlessly innovative as it bops along above the tireless rhythm section. He practically reinvents "Round Midnight", while "Self Portrait in Three Colors" is given a subtly shaded reading that would make Mingus proud.

Coltrane sounds nothing like his father, so comparisons are in terms of mastery only. As such, while this is no Giant Steps or A Love Supreme, in its own way it is surely as polished and energetic as his father's Soultrane or Lush Life.

Thanks to a jazz scene that limits performance to large outdoor festivals and occasional club gigs while limiting recording output to a disc every couple of years, Coltrane will never develop the way his father did. No one will, as a matter of fact. But he is moving in the right direction. If more people like Itoh could hook up with adventurous players like Coltrane, the talk about the so-called death of jazz could be laid to rest once and for all.

And for Coltrane, if he can join the verve and swing of Mad 6 with the creativity and expression afforded by an album of his own compositions, he'll have accomplished what few in the world of mainstream jazz have done of late: adding a truly essential disc to the jazz canon.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less
Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image