Thursday, May 25, 2017

Alice Coltrane - The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda (Luaka Bop, 2017)

Alice Coltrane is most well known to music fans as the wife of the legendary saxophonist John Coltrane, but Alice was a formidable multi-instrumentalist and composer in her own right. She held the piano chair in John Coltrane's band from 1965-1967 and also issued a wealth of solo material on Impulse! and Warner Brothers in the years following her husband's death. One thing that she shared in connection with John was a relentless spiritual yearning and this became the focus of the rest of her life, when she founded an ashram in California, took on an unpronounceable Sanskrit name and devoted herself to spiritual pursuits. But she never gave up music entirely which we are to be grateful for because she was a protean force on several instruments in addition to piano like the electric organ and harp, which gave her jazz based music such interesting and memorable flavor. From 1983 - 1995, Alice Coltrane published several private press cassettes of devotional music that received little coverage and were not well known to the outside world. This is where this collection comes in, bridging the gap in her musical evolution between her retreat from the wider musical world in the early eighties to her surprising reemergence in the jazz setting with the Translinear Light album and a few public concerts before she passed away in 2007. This album takes selections from those cassette only releases, remasters them and presents the music in a digital or vinyl format with photos and liner notes from Coltrane scholar Ashley Kahn. The music is quite unlike anything else we had heard from her, although the is a lengthy revisiting of one of her former spiritual jazz pieces, "Journey in Satchidananda." While matters of the soul were never far from her jazz work, this is another thing entirely, with much of the music consisting of chanting, singing including Alice's own vocals and hypnotic percussion. The instruments most associated with her are heard with washes of organ and shimmering harp on some pieces, but the most surprising aspect of the music was her embrace of synthesizers and the possibilities this technology offered for her devotional music. She uses the technology in a very unique way, framing the vocals, in conjunction with percussion and developing melodic lines. This isn't the cheesy 1980's synth you may be dreading, it's light years away from any pop sensibility, and it's closest analog may be some of the mellower works Sun Ra was creating with similar technology during this period. Overall this is an interesting look a well known musician that turned away from jazz to focus on her spiritual life and looked to make a contribution in both arenas. Listeners searching for music that is similar to her 1970's jazz albums will likely be flummoxed by the music on this collection, but embracing it with an open mind can lead to interesting results. World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Turiya Alice Coltrane - amazon.com

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