A new rock music sita sings the blues essay pop culture website. Alice Coltrane is one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, with a sublime musical vision that encompasses jazz, blues, gospel, Indian classical, North African music, and European modernism.
Although her achievement is now being recognised, for many years Coltrane was misunderstood and dismissed by many of jazz’s gatekeepers. Others simply didn’t get what her music was about, dismissing it as so much hippy twaddle. Such wrong-headed attitudes are thankfully on the wane. Coltrane was hugely respected by the heavyweight musicians she worked with, who were clearly less hung up on genre boundaries than many critics. Stephen Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, has played a key role in raising her profile, and there’s undoubtedly a heady whiff of Alice in Kamasi Washington’s symphonic jazz arrangements. She’s also a major influence on contemporary jazz innovators like Joshua Abrams and Amirtha Kidambi, who clearly respond to her unorthodox approach. Gospel remained a great love and its influence can be heard throughout her work.
In her teens, she discovered bebop through her older half-brother, the bassist Ernie Farrow, and was entranced. Before she was twenty, she had gigged with saxophonists Cannonball Adderley and Sonny Stitt. She later moved to Paris where she studied piano with the great Bud Powell. He was her soulmate and collaborator, and together they had four children before John’s untimely death from liver cancer in 1967. She soon became a spiritual leader herself, opening the Vedantic Centre in 1975, and the Sai Anantam Ashram eight years later. As a result, she drifted away from the music business, although she continued to record devotional music for her community. Read on, as we unpack her legacy.
Philadelphia in 1966, but only released in 2015. She hooks up beautifully with bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Rashied Ali, riding the latter’s multi-directional flow, while providing rhythmic and harmonic anchors when necessary. She more than proves herself of being willing and able to follow her husband on his ecstatic journeys to the outer reaches. Long Island home studio in 1968. The Sun’, a modal piano piece that opens with a spoken word invocation recorded by her husband and Sanders in 1966. By pairing her own music with her husband’s, Alice announced her intention to continue on the visionary path they had mapped out together. Jazz purists cried blasphemy, but as Alice repeatedly pointed out, the project was a realisation of her and John’s original vision.
He talked about cosmic sounds, higher dimensions, astral levels and other worlds, and realms of music and sound that I could feel. The results are fascinating and rather gorgeous, offering a glimpse where John might have gone next had he lived. Towards the end of his life, John Coltrane decided to buy a harp, hoping that the instrument would help him rethink his approach to harmony and texture. The harp took months to build and wasn’t delivered to the family home until after his death.
Alice would later recall how, if the windows were open, a strong breeze would make the harp’s strings hum, as if it was being played by some invisible force. Easter modes with blues and gospel tonalities. Gospel Trane’, where she brings her rippling, harp-like phrasing to complex modal structures. The gracefulness of her right-hand playing is underpinned by a gutsy sense of swing that reflects her gospel and bebop roots. Rashied Ali on drums and erstwhile Miles Davis bassist Ron Carter stepping in for Garrison.
Ali with Riley, and bringing in Sanders and Joe Henderson on saxophones and flute. Carter and Riley are a more in-the-pocket rhythm section than Garrison and Ali, providing a solid, funky backbone for the title track’s expansive Egyptian strut. Henderson’s warm, hip style contrasts nicely with Sander’s weirder expressions, while Coltrane dazzles with undulating piano leads and strident gospel riffs. Blue Nile’ is a blissed-out spiritual jazz gem, with Coltrane on harp and the saxophonists doubling up on flutes.
Coltrane met her guru Swami Satchidananda in 1970, travelling to India with him, and taking on the name Turiyasangitananda. Isis And Osiris’ reflects Coltrane’s interest in Egyptian cosmology, with Vishnu Wood’s oud cutting through the mystical drift. This is the album which begins Coltrane’s voyage beyond jazz, and it’s as innovative as it is accessible. Coltrane’s final three albums for Impulse are her most radical, weaving together European modernism, Indian classical, psychedelic rock, gospel and modal jazz to create a truly cosmic music. These albums largely eschew horns for strings and Wurlitzer organ, reflecting her fondness for flowing sounds.
Jack De Johnette and Rashied Ali’s twin drum barrage. Battle At Armageddon’ is one of the heaviest pieces Coltrane recorded, as she teams up with Kali, El Daoud and Jesus Christ to vanquish demonic forces. Her Wurlitzer playing is wild, as she uses the tone wheel to emulate the swoops and bends of her husband’s soprano saxophone, and embarks on freewheeling modal runs that touch on Indian classical music, gospel, and Terry Riley’s wilder flights. My Favourite Things’ is nuts, with the strings modulating from breezy major to dramatic minor, while Coltrane opens vast black holes of organ. Coltrane elevates her music to the astral plane.
Galaxy Around Olodumare’ is free jazz via Stravinsky and Stockhausen, with Frank Lowe’s raw saxophone burning a hole through gaseous string abstractions, before some sudden tape edits turn the universe inside out. Galaxy In Satchidananda’ sounds like the birth of a new planet. Coltrane’s trio going head to head with a full orchestra, with some intriguing versions of Stravinsky and Dvorak themes. Latin percussion alongside the strings, piano, harp and organ.
Map To The Treasure’, where Coltrane’s harp ripples gorgeously behind Nyro’s vocal and piano. Her most sustained collaborative projects, however, are the 1974 albums she made with saxophonist Joe Henderson and Carlos Santana, respectively. Earth’ is the highlight, with Coltrane laying a tamboura drone over a deliciously slow and deliberate groove, as Henderson plays superbly off Michael White’s hip violin jabs. A spacey interlude sees the drums drop out, as Kenneth Nash narrates cosmic wisdom over flute, tabla and harp, and then we’re back into the main theme, with White and Henderson raising the pressure over that indelible groove. Santana noodling over lush strings.