Over the years I’ve been slowly but steadily exploring the music of Alice Coltrane, wife of saxophone legend John Coltrane and a musical wonder in her own right. At one point her music was very much out of print but in today’s 21st Century multi-format music universe, you can find Alice Coltrane’s music on streaming services like Tidal, vinyl records, CDs and downloads. You’ll find her on YouTube and even up on Bandcamp.
Recently I picked up a recent collection of her more elusive and personal recordings which effectively came back into print last year for the first time since… well… a long time. More on that in a bit. Now, there is a lot of documented information about Alice out there on the Interwebs so I’ll refrain from recounting too much of that here and will simply offer you pointers to Alice’s official website, NPR and even the Wiki for background. But in short, Alice Coltrane extended her spiritually-infused musical journey — begun with her husband — into a rich solo career. She eventually became a spiritual leader, adopting a Sanskrit name “Turiyasangitanada” which according to her website “translates as the Transcendental Lord’s highest song of Bliss.”
Along the way, she created new musics for her community in the form of melodic, spiritual and exploratory series of soulful cassette releases and those are the recordings we are going to discuss here. Newly compiled by David Byrne’s wonderful world music label LuakaBop Records, The Ecstatic Music Of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitanada is both an uplifting and fascinating listen. Blending Eastern-infused sounds with Gospel-like chant, jazz aesthetics, proto-minimalism, meditative ambiance and progressive leaning space music sounds, this album is an engaging spin start to finish. It is very much an ebb-and-tide, wave-like song cycle experience. You can listen to this music with you full attention (which you should!) or let it fall into the background as you meditate, rest or do other things (I’m writing this review while listening to this music in the background).
Audiophile wise, The Ecstatic Music Of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitanada is quite a joy to listen to with its big sweeping synthesizers, rich organs, sitars, harp, hand percussion and clapping, chanting from The Sai Amantam Singers as well as solo vocals by Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitanada herself. “Om Shanti” is a gorgeous bluesy gospel folk song hybrid that reminds me at times of some of Joni Mitchell’s jazzy mid / late 70s adventures. I really like the beautiful and moody “Rama Rama.” It is hard to pin any one musical label on this music so I will encourage you to simply listen!
So how do these recordings on The Ecstatic Music Of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitanada sound? Quite fabulous! From the LP credits we learn that “tape transfers from the master tapes (were) overseen by the original recording engineer, the amazing Baker Bigsby.” Bigsby apparently worked with a lot of jazz greats including Sun Ra, Keith Jarrett and even worked on projects with Stevie Wonder! The vinyl was half-speed mastered by the legendary mastering engineer Paul Stubblebine. The included FLAC download sounds very good — it shows up at 44.1 kHz, 32-bit in my VLC player and via the Mytek DAC I use — and is certainly welcome for making this wondrous music more mobile (I’d love to do a road trip down the California coast listening to these recordings… and plan to!).
On Tidal, the album is available as a standard CD quality 16-bit, 44.1 kHz stream and it sounds a bit brighter, probably from the inevitable compression. It is fine for basic listening and exploring her catalog. That said, while you are up on Tidal, check out Alice Coltrane’s other albums such as the fascinating Monastic Trio jazz set and the amazing Journey in Satchidananda (recorded with Pharoah Sanders on Saxophone; this album was my entry point for getting into Alice’s music).
Any way you listen to the music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitanada, you can’t really go wrong. Enlightening and powerful listening experiences await you.