Thursday, January 26, 2012

Alice Coltrane - Huntington Ashram Monastery / World Galaxy (Impulse 2-on-1) (Impulse, 2012)

There has been a new batch of 2-on-1 albums released delving deep into the back catalog of Impulse! Records and releasing some music that hasn't seen the light of day in a while or possibly never during the CD/Download era. This disc/download collects two albums by Alice Coltrane, where she deftly switches between piano, organ and harp accompanied by some excellent musicians and occasional string arrangements. Huntington Ashram Monestary was Alice Coltrane's second album for the Impulse and featured Ron Carter on bass and Rashied Ali on drums in addition to the leader's harp, piano and compositions. Many of the titles and compositions have spiritual themes reflecting the arena of Indian spirituality that she was moving to and would eventually lead her away from public performance for over 20 years in the 1980's and 90's. The title track leads off the record with some sparkling harp over full bodied bass and light percussion. The harp over percussion has the gentle feeling of water falling softly over a waterfall. "Turiya" also features harp, a rare instrument in jazz, over bass and drums with a soft, peaceful, almost new-age feel. "Paramahansa Lake" gives the harp a little darker sound and ends the first side of the record. "Via Sivanandagar" puts Ali back on sticks and as does "IHS" which is a very dark piano piece (the title stands for I Have Suffered) with bowed bass adding to the tension. Alice Coltrane plays the piano in a cascading fashion almost like the harp. "Jaga Jaga Rama" ends the album on another strong note with the full trio of piano, bass and drums. It's too bad there's no organ on this record as well, because I think it's the instrument where she has the most unique style, but nonetheless there is interesting music well worth checking out. On World Galaxy, she is supported by Frank Lowe on saxophone, Reggie Workman on bass and Ben Riley on drums. There is a large string section on some tracks and a couple of guest appearances. The has a gutsy interpretation of a song indelibly linked to her late husband, “My Favorite Things.” But this edition of the old standard takes moves in a fascinating new direction. Alice plays some beautifully pointed organ and piano, with the stings not acting as a sappy background, but as a swirling, whirling foil to her playing. The strings and harp take center stage on “Galaxy Around Olodumare” and “Galaxy Around Turiya” as the music builds to a meditative drone. “Galaxy in Satchidananda” features some of the organ work for which she is famous, unlike any of the famous jazz organists to come before her, she has a very unique sound, influenced by eastern and spiritual music. Alice’s guru makes a special spoken word appearance to promote peace and love, and then the band glides into a portion of “A Love Supreme” in which Alice’s now funky organ plays off against guest LeRoi Jenkins violin to an interesting effect. All in all, it’s a very interesting collection. Perhaps some aspects are a little dated, particularly the guru’s narration and the string orchestra draped over some parts of the music like a heavy velvet curtain, but most of it holds up quite well. Alice Coltrane’s music is overdue for critical reinterpretation since she made music that is well worth exploring. Huntington Ashram Monastery / World Galaxy (Impulse 2-on-1) - amazon.com

Send comments to ree.