Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda – The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda (2017)
Note: This is a modified and expanded version of a review, originally published by SoundOhm.
Entering the world as Alice McLeod, and departing under the name Turiyasangitananda, Alice Coltrane was among the most important creative voices of 20th century. A woman like no other, who sculpted a body of music, so singular, that it can be distinguished a mile out – sounding like nothing, before or since. Setting aside the obvious consequences of gender inequity, for most of her life, Alice’s work lingered in the shadow of her famous husband. A fact which, in this case alone, might be forgiven. The name John Coltrane, rightly, looms larger than all others in the history of jazz. Thankfully, to the beloved of this saint of a man, history has been just and kind – elevating her legacy, placing it with equity next to his own – illuminating the shared genius and talent, which brought them together. From the moment they met, the lives of these two remarkable beings were inextricably tied. Creative partners, as much as in love and the everyday.
Alice and John Coltrane, photo by Chester Sheard
While it’s unfair to view the work of Alice Coltrane through her relationship with John, in many ways it is the best lens through which to enter. Her work as a solo composer and band leader did not begin until after his death – in part, conceived as a continuation of the work they began together. Her sounds were an extension of their love, rising from the ashes of tragedy and loss. They are singular and of profound importance, tracing steps that had never been passed. Alice Coltrane’s recorded output spans the late 60’s and 1970’s – a breathtaking suite of LPs, before culminating in a series of self-issued cassettes which emerged across the 1980’s and 90’s – the sonic realization of her inner path, and the focus of Luaka Bop’s new compilation – The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda.
A pioneer on countless fronts, Alice Coltrane was one of a tiny number of women in 1960’s jazz to be allowed through the door – wielding her instrument with a force and artistry which couldn’t be ignored. It was her visionary mind which helped push her husband toward the astounding sonic realms which defined the last four years of his life – a movement toward a higher sonic and spiritual plane, which she continued in his absence to astounding result. Following John’s untimely passing in 1967, Alice began to immerse herself in Hindu spiritual practice – first presenting itself on her 1969 LP Huntington Ashram Monastery, within Jaya Jaya Rama – an improvisation based on an Indian mantra. Over the coming decade, her spiritual journey offered ever increasing guidance over her compositions, before pushing her to dedicate herself to spiritual teaching in the late 70’s.
Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda – Divine Songs (1987)
In 1982, Coltrane’s work entered a new phase – emerging on a cassette called Turiya Sings, released privately by her own Avatar Book Institute imprint. Though heard by few, it was as revolutionary as anything from her previous body of work, blending the sounds of gospel from her youth, and Hindu mantra – finding her singing for the first time in her career. Her second release – Divine Songs, is drenched in introspection and sorrow – her voice plumbing the depths of beauty and loss. The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda – extending over two LPs, features six of Divine Songs’ seven tracks, in addition to the title work from her iconic 1971 release – Journey In Satchidananda, and two previously unreleased compositions. The first installment of Luaka Bop’s new series World Spirituality Classics – focused spiritual musics from around the world, it’s a stunning start to an incredible project – offering insight into a remarkable artist, and the broader concerns of a generation exiting the idealism of the 1970’s. Built around washes of ambience – the sounds of synthesizers, traditional Indian instrumentation, harp, and voice, the compilation is a door into another world – the quest for higher meaning speaking through one of the 20th century’s greatest artists. Assembled in collaboration with her family, this is the first authorized release of Coltrane’s recordings from the 1980’s since they initially emerged – making them available to broader audience for the first time. You can it out below. It sold out almost immediately at source, but there are still copies available through SoundOhm, and with luck at your local record store.