elevenshadows musicblog


music that makes my ears wiggle

~~ 2007~~

Alice Coltrane, jazz musician/leader and spiritual leader as well as the widow of the jazz saxophonist John Coltrane and the pianist in his later bands, moved beyond this realm on Friday, 12 January 2006 in Los Angeles. She was 69. The cause was respiratory failure.   

Through my friend Tom, I was lucky enough to meet her quite a few times while sharing Indian food at his family's house or absorbing the talks that she gave at her Vedantic Center in the Agoura Hills.  I also traveled with Tom and her son Oran to India for a month.  I value her spiritual words of wisdom and transcendent music.

The musical samples on this player are for educational purposes only. If you dig the cuts, support the artist by picking up a CD.

Huntington Ashram Monastery (Impulse!; 1969-LP)
This is the first LP I ever heard by Alice Coltrane, and until hearing "Journey Into Satchidananda many years later, was my favorite Alice Coltrane release.  It's a bit more of a departure from "A Monastic Trio", which I also enjoy quite a bit, showing Coltrane branching out much more artistically.  Side one has flowing, sweeping harp atop a steady acoustic bass line.  Side Two has Coltrane playing piano, much like "Journey In Satchidananda".  Jazz that is very tranquil and meditative, and not nearly as sonically dense as her previous release. 

I finally decided on "Paramahansa Lake" as one of the sound samples, partially because I deeply respect Paramahansa Yogananda's teachings, and partially because I love walking and sitting by the lake at the Self-Realization center.  Alice Coltrane wrote:  "The direct inspiration for "Paramahansa Lake" comes from a recording I heard made by a monk who belonged to the Self-Realization Fellowship, a California fellowship church of all religions founded by Paramahansa Yogananda, an Indian master.  Paramahansa means 'one belonging to the highest order of monks.'  It was my good fortune to meet one such person, Swami Chidananda.  I received word from his personal attendant that Swami Chidananda was touring European cities, and would be coming to America this year.  When he arrived in New York, I went to hear him lecture, and was introduced to him."

"I am especially pleased with Ron Carter's playing on this album. His ears are harmonically attuned to high chord progressions. Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk are my early influences on piano. I met Bud Powell, his wide, Buttercup, and son, Johnny, in Europe in 1960. During that period, I learned a great deal from Bud. This recording session was cut on a four-track Ampex AG-440 magnetic recorder/reproducer. My instruments are the Grand Concert Model 11 Lyon and Healy Harp and the D Concert Grand piano by Steinway." - Alice Coltrane, July 5, 1969.

Listen to "Paramahansa Lake" on the MP3 flash player above


Journey In Satchidananda (Impulse!; 1970)
Easily one of my favorite jazz records ever.  The strong Indian influence, simple, authoritative buzzing bassline, the tamboura drone, the expansive Pharoah Sanders soprano sax, and the harp gliding easily over it all.  Her harp-like piano playing fills out Side Two.  A masterpiece.

Listen to "Journey In Satchidananda" on the MP3 flash player above

I feel extremely fortunate to have seen Alice Coltrane play music quite a few times.  Most of the times were when she sang Hindu chants with the members of the ashram, accompanied by a harmonium or an organ.  Other times were at the John Coltrane festivals, when she played the Wurlitzer and the piano.  And of course, there was the last time I saw her perform in 2006, when she played the Wurlitzer, piano, and a digital synthesizer.   I never saw her perform with the harp. 

Knowing that she played all these instruments, when I first met her, I asked her which instrument was her favorite.  She said, "My voice."  She went on to explain that of all the instruments, that was the most precious to her, and the one that would get her closest to God, to feeling spirituality. 

World Galaxy (Impulse!; 1971-LP)
Featuring the Peter Max cover and a 16-piece string section and a version of  "A Love Supreme" with spoken words by Sri Swami Satchidananda-- her guru at the time and the man whose chanting opened Woodstock-- over an impossibly lush string/harp/oud/percussion backing.  Alternately spacey, intense, sweet, or


Universal Consciousness (Impulse!; 1971)
Tons of strings and organ, with the Wurlitzer often taking center stage with Ornette Coleman's string arrangements.  Probably one of her more "way out" albums, it's not always "easy" listening.  The album opens with some furious Ornette Coleman-arranged string arrangements on the title track before leading into some furious organ playing in "Battle At Armageddon".  The music becomes more blissful and meditative with adaptations of traditional Indian hymns "Hare Krishna" and "Sita Ram" (which Radiohead has opened with occasionally during their shows), with Coltrane still playing organ and harp over Tulsi's buzzing tamboura drone.  "The Ankh of Amen-Ra." begins with a chime and harp bliss out before becoming more tense with an interplay between Rashied Ali's drums and Alice Coltrane's organ playing.

When asked by The Wire in a 2002 interview what she meant by "universal consciousness", she replied with the following (which reminded me of what she frequently taught at her ashram):  "To not always attach ourselves to everything because we live in a world that's so changing. If it's true what can we do? We're helpless to act against change, but we shouldn't invest so heavily in our material world, our mundane existence. We won't be here anyway after 50, 25, or maybe even next year. We're going on to a higher dimension, another whole realm of existence. But many people have just hurt themselves. An important part of your being is your thinking, your mentality. It shows you that life exists in all forms, in all ways and God didn't intend for man's existence to be temporary. That's why I believe that we've got spirituality. Religion divides people. Religion creates problems when there's not an understanding that we should accept all of our fellow man. Whatever your faith in God is, let's not be critical, let's not be judgmental, but most religions are so sectarian, so orthodox, and so much into believing that their God is the only one it makes problems unnecessarily. Spiritually we don't have to concern ourselves with tenets and precepts and concepts, and that this faith is based on that statute, this code and that principle."


lluminations (with Carlos Santana), Sony
Coltrane pushed Santana into what is arguably his weirdest release.  And it is a weird release.  It's not that it's especially avant-garde or abrasive.  It's an odd assortment of elements.  First, there's a spoken chant/invocation by Sri Chinmoy.  Thick strings, harp, and Santana's instantly recognizable guitar playing begin.  Increasingly massive strings enter.  Then the epic 15-minute "Angel of Sunlight", begins benignly enough, exuding an Eastern flavor for the first four minutes with tamboura drones, strings, and harp flourishes backing Santana's Eastern modalities, growing increasingly tense, until the acoustic bass picks it up and the damn bursts, the band launching into jazz fusion/intense Santana territory.  Santana, Coltrane, and Jules Broussard (soprano sax) trade furious solos, with the song increasing in intensity.  The final track, "Illuminations", is like the calm after the storm, with calmer strings, harp, and simple piano.  Some of these tracks were remixed by Bill Laswell for 2001 Carlos Santana release "Divine Light: Reconstructions & Mix Translation".


Transcendence, SepiaTone/Warner Bros., 1977
I picked up this release because the music reminds me of the singing I heard when I attended the Wednesday talks that Alice Coltrane (aka Swamini A.C. Turiyasangitananda) gave at her ashram, The Vedantic Center, in the Agoura Hills.  There, it was usually a harmonium instead of the organ, and the singing seemed looser and more gospel-tinged than here, but that could be the distortion of memory. I remember that the singing was always good, and always stirring.  Interestingly, Coltrane writes, "On this recording, I especially noted the reaction of the singers who had never heard of Sanskrit.  When it was introduced to them, they seemed reluctant to chant; however, I told them to sing the songs in their own way and style." 

Transcendence begins with strings by the Satori Quartet and less fervent harp playing than in many of her previous releases.  The second song, "Vrindavana Sanchara", is a Coltrane composition with just her playing harp, tamboura, a simple pulsing tambourine, and wind chimes.  "Transcendence" brings back the Satori Quartet's cinematic strings along with the harp.  Things, however, take a turn for the rhythmic with "Sivaya", a traditional bhajan (Hindu devotional song), with Coltrane playing organ amidst hand percussion, handclaps, and gospel-sounding hindu chanting.  The rest of this release is a more low, warm organ underpinning the hand claps, hand percussion, and devotional singing, ending with "Sri Nrsimha" with Mahashakti Williams on lead vocal (listen to this song on the MP3 flash player above).

Listen to "Sri Nrsimha" on the MP3 flash player above


Note:  I don't know how to make this form work right now, so if you want to leave a comment, just email me and I'll post it on here.  Sorry.  -Ken

Leave a comment:



   Web Site


Back to Music Reviews

eleven shadows   eleven shadows