The best songs to (re)discover Alice Coltrane

It was 1966 when McCoy Tyner left Coltrane. He left slamming the door, saturated with the “free drift” that the leader had hopelessly taken. He resisted first to Om, then to Ascension and Meditations. Masterpieces of the atonal world. But on the famous Live at The Village Vanguard we find someone called Alice Mac Leod sitting on the piano, shortly after Alice Coltrane.

Twist of fate, this work that freely distorts two classics of the Coltranian repertoire, begins with Naima: dedicated in ’59 to the saxophonist’s first wife.

Since then, as is well known, Alice experienced the antipathy of critics and audiences; she was portrayed as unworthy to sit at that table and called the “Yoko Ono” of jazz, blamed for having destroyed from the inside one of the best combos in existence, the one of A Love Supreme just to be clear.

But time is a gentleman (they say) and almost 50 years later, in 2010, a work for Warp leaved everyone speechless. It was Cosmogramma by Flying Lotus, as indecipherable as fascinating, always new. Fundamental work for modern electronics whose inspiration, according to the author, is clear: the harp played by his aunt Alice.

Auntie’s Harp (the 15th track) is a sampling from Galaxy in Turyia, an ascetic composition by Alice Coltrane: great-aunt of Steven Allison aka Flying Lotus, who is the cousin of Ravi Coltrane (son of Alice and John) and founder of Brainfeeder.

A cosmic circle closing: World Galaxy (Impulse! Records 1972) similarly to Cosmogramma traces the idea of psychedelia in a modern form. An apple that doesn’t fall far from the tree.

After that Live at The Village Vanguard, events quickly followed one another and forged the supporting structure of one of the most fascinating artist of that period.

The sudden death of John gave her a legacy too bulky to be managed quickly in addition to a laborious elaboration of mourning concurrently with a progressive conversion to the westernized Hinduism of one of the numerous “gurus” that raged in the 70s in the United States: a movement that projected lights and shadows…

The core of Alice’s career is precisely outlined after these events.

Musically between the orchestration of her husband’s unfinished works (John Coltrane: Infinity released in 1972) up to the litanies recorded in the Ashram, collected inThe Ecstatic Music Of Alice ColtraneTuriyasangitananda. Just when listening to this liturgical music Steven, visiting his aunt, misunderstood the words Cosmic Drama, childishly crippling them into Cosmogramma, baptizing his future masterpiece.

Between 1970 and 1978 Alice published a series of transversal and complex works, full of ideas still to be discovered: certainly forerunners of the globalization of music, already “world music” and “new age” before they existed, precursors of the indian and arab influences on Hip Hop.

A fertile ground which saw excellent actors playing unusual roles, from Joe Henderson to Charlie Haden, from Pharoah Sanders to Rashied Ali. A training ground where Alice showed the world the cloth she was made of, and most of all that the replacement of McCoy Tyner was not without sense: a strong personality artist, an experimenter with mature traits, capable of codifying universal languages.

An intelligible path which can be summarized through 5 sound snapshots, engraved in space and time.

Turiya and Ramakrishna: still in jazz, but only for a little while

After A Monastic Trio Alice Coltrane begins to show her percussive and personal piano style mixing an almost “sheppian” and harpistic phrasing with the blues sensibility of her origins. Rigidity as a source of expression encouraged by Coltrane himself during their first collaborations.

Here we are fully in jazz, also thanks to a Ron Carter in a state of grace. But the take-off begins, led by a luxury co-pilot as Pharoah Sanders who alternates with the depth of Joe Henderson. In the same work the magnificent Blue Nile.

Ptah, the El Daoud is definitely her best record.

 Isis and Osiris 1/2: the roots between the Middle East and North Africa

Still within the Middle Eastern and North African culture, with even more marked elements of Hindu and Indian music, Jouney in Satchinadandia sees the “cosmic” germ flourishing…

Universal Consciousness: the symphonic trilogy

As announced by the title Alice is here purposely seeking a “cosmic drift”, initially oriented towards the Free form of Sun Ra and his cosmology. Less meditative than the subsequent World Galaxy and more focused to the timbral impact, with long forays by the beloved Wurlitzer, supported by the percussive wall created by Jack de JohnetteRashied Ali and Clifford Jarvis in contrast to a row of violins in atonal key.

The following Galaxy in Turiya (from World Galaxy, 1972 – Impulse! Records) was anticipated by Hare Krishna and Sita Ram in Universal Consciousness: the atmospheric power, the strings and the search for mental states are the core of this work opening and closing on two weird versions of My Favorite Things and A Love Supreme, where Alice injects massive doses of Wurlitzer, whose dense and hypnotic timbre became characteristic of his signature.

The “symphonic trilogy” is completed with Lord of Lords (1972 – Impulse! Records) which, compared to the previous two works, sees a further transcendental thrust, especially the final Going Home discharges any accumulated tension (Andromeda’s Suffering): not lacking throughout the trilogy , a strong inclination to drama (“Sri Rama Ohnedaruth”).

The Elements: collaborations

Alice Coltrane appeared in numerous sessions, bringing her transversality into more traditional contexts. From concrete and important works such as Joe Henderson‘s The Elements to Illuminations with the double signature by Carlos Santana and Alice Coltrane: a record that actually betrayed the intentions, but a witness to what revolved around his figure.

Cosmic Drama and Transcendence: the abandonment of the original form

After a couple of unfocused works such as Eternity and Transcendence with which she debuted in Warner Bros and before finally devoting herself to Hindu sacred music, Transfiguration is released: a double live of absolute value. With Reggie Workman on bass and Roy Haynes on drums, Alice sublimates her experience and leads us into a dimension where music is nothing but the search for “A Love Supreme” which she began years earlier with her husband John.

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