Monday, June 17, 2019

Alice Coltrane Sextet ‎– Live At The Berkeley Community Theater 1972 (BCT Records, 2019)

Five years after the death of her famous husband John, there could be no doubt that Alice Coltrane had grown into a unique seasoned performer with a voice all her own. She had a commanding presence on piano, harp and organ, a unique skill in crafting arrangements that hinted at the spiritual psychedelia of the time without pandering to the remaining hippies and was producing a series of memorable records. This album is a previously unreleased soundboard recording of her band which contained Charlie Haden on bass, Ben Riley on drums, Aashish Khan on sarod, Pranesh Khan on tabla and Bobby W(?) on tambora and percussion. It is a very powerful performance and one that definitely deserves attention from fans of Impulse era spiritual jazz or jazz / world music crossover. Alice Coltrane is particularly impressive on the Wurlitzer electric organ, which strikes a remarkable balance between the more mellow Hammond B3 favored by most jazz musicians and the Farfisa organ sound made famous by garage rock bands worldwide. This gives her the power to cut through the ensemble and make her presence felt throughout these lengthy performances (each of the four an equivalent to a side of vinyl.) They begin with "Journey In Satchidananda" which was the title track of the record she had released the previous year. Influenced by her travels in India and what was then called Ceylon, the music has an exotic and beguiling sound to it as the drums and percussion develop cross hatching rhythms and the bass and sarod offer a droning counterbalance, leaving a perfect setting for Coltrane to launch into a lengthy eastern tinged solo on the electric organ. They develop a raucous performance, a collective improvisation that stretches at the very boundaries of the piece without ever losing the overall plot, Alice herself laying out at one point for a hypnotic section of tabla and sarod playing at a whirling speed, and leading to her returning on harp which she plays a brief solo upon before finishing the performance on the organ. The perform a fascinating interpretation of the “A Love Supreme” suite, teasing the melody from a distance, then stating it on the organ with percussive flourishes, they gradually beginning to meld the familiar music in their own way with this interesting array of instruments, setting a deep groove and allowing sparks to fly. The music is fascinating, evolving into a wall of drums and percussion along with the rolling organ and strings creating an unstoppable improvising force, until the band steps aside for a massive seven minute bass solo from Charlie Haden, showing dazzling technique and endurance under the spotlight. “My Favorite Things” becomes a feature for the sarod, employed slightly like a guitar, but giving the music an unusual characteristic that when employed with the tabla creates a very exciting and powerful sense of flow. After this scintillating introduction, the organ, bass and drums charge in creating a fantastic full band setup driving the music forward and you can just barely begin to pick out parts of the familiar melody in their extrapolation. They end with an epic version of John Coltrane’s “Leo” beginning with a phantasmagoric opening sequence, really pushing for the expansion of consciousness with kaleidoscopic organ sounds, and wave upon wave of percussion and bass creating undulating rhythms and astonishing speed. Drums and percussion get a section of their own with Riley leading the way, very exciting and displaying great power and strength in his execution. There is another fine section for sarod and tabla playing with amazing speed and dexterity, everybody is getting generous feature time during this last track and making the most of it. The band comes together for a fantastic blowing section, doubling down on the free jazz intensity they had built previously and wailing with the utmost intensity and conviction. This is an excellent album and well worth tracking down if you can find it, Discogs lists it as an unofficial release, with a limited edition 750 LP copies from Germany, and there are grey market versions floating around the Internet. Regardless, this music is hot and deserves a well remastered official release, because this is the real deal.

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