For Ravi Coltrane, good things apparently come in pairs. The saxophonist’s latest disc features two lineups: his long-term quartet with pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer E.J. Strickland, and a quintet with trumpeter Ralph Alessi, pianist Geri Allen, bassist James Genus, and drummer Eric Harland. But that’s not to say this record has a split personality, for Coltrane’s vision is evident throughout with engaging results.
The theme of duality extends to the music itself. On the aptly titled “Roads Cross” and “Cross Roads,” half of the quartet takes a different improvisational path from the other half before gradually, briefly intersecting, then diverging again. Coltrane takes this concept to the extreme on the title track, actually recording each half of the quartet separately, then combining the tracks to create a piece that manages to convey a sense of logic.
The quartet mostly takes a more open-ended and abstract approach, which makes sense given their familiarity. The quintet’s material is more structured and direct but far from rigid. Coltrane and Alessi — who contributes three sterling compositions of his own — have a clear rapport, deftly weaving melodies around each other on “Who Wants Ice Cream.” And the quintet as a whole is adept at developing a narrative, as on the slow-building intensity of “Yellow Cat.”
In Coltrane’s hands, these two worlds don’t collide — they merge into a seamless whole. —John Frederick Moore