Sunday, August 27, 2017

McLeod Atlas: Alice Coltrane 80

As promised, here comes the fourth post in five days and likely the last for August, commemorating what would have been the 80th birthday of the author of some of my all-time favorite music by anyone, anytime, anywhere.
In my lifetime so far I have been lucky enough to attend the final live performances of two of the greatest artists of our times. One was Nina Simone. The other was today's honoree, who passed at the beginning of 2007 after one of the most unique trajectories ever seen in American music.
She rose to prominence in her husband's final, legendarily boundary-shattering groups, and when John Coltrane died in 1967, she embarked on a path that could be considered more an artistic pilgrimage than a career in Jazz. The things she found along that path have enriched my life as much as any musician I could name.
We all have our sacred, private music that sustains us through everything. For some people, it's Bulgarian Folk songs. For some others, it's Whitney Houston turning a single syllable into 52 notes. For yet others, it's The Psychedelic Furs. For me, it is the music of Alice Coltrane.
There's never been anything like it. How many artists can truly say they came up with something completely out of the realm of what had gone before, whose output has no real analog in the pantheon? She was and is a singularity, a one-off. Her like may never come again and certainly not in our lifetimes.
There's really no way to describe her stuff, except to say that it's a cosmically charged combination of modal Jazz, Indian music of the subcontinent, and Classical music in the twelve-tone or Serial vein. Who does that? Who else has ever done that? Just her string charts alone are enough to make you say "WTF is this??"
There's all sorts of other elements that spring up as well. I mean, there's tunes of hers where it's got the three disparate components I mentioned... and it's a Funk song as well. Is that even possible, to combine Ahmed Abdul-Malik, Ustad Alla Rakha  and Alban Berg in one thing, and have it be danceable too?
Nothing I could write here could possibly describe what she did; you have to get into it for yourself if you haven't already. All I can say by way of explanation is that this is music that impacts the mind and soul in a very serious, transcendent way unlike any other artist of the last half century.
Did I mention that she's one of the craziest, most indelibly powerful organists of all time? The sounds she wrung from those instruments is as close to Pure Ecstasy as you're ever gonna get in this lifetime, I'm afraid. At least under Capitalism, anyways.
She made a bunch of records in the late 1960s through the end of the 1970s, and then opened a Vedantic spiritual center in Southern California and took her music to a more private, limited plane. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s she recorded vocal devotional songs and released them privately on her own cassettes and LPs... some of these largely unheard recordings were just compiled by David Byrne's Luaka Bop label on a new CD and 2LP set, just issued a couple of months ago.
Like I said, the music of Alice Coltrane is as impossible to categorize as any I could name, and it's really no exaggeration to say that what she produced is almost its own genre, independent of the sections in the search bar on amazon.com. The only way to do it is to get to it, with the proof being in the records.
So let's dispense with my thoroughly vague Sunday morning, pre-coffee screedings and get to it, shall we? Today is special because we have a main share and an Easter Egg one for the ardent souls who can stand to read until the end. They deserve reward for navigating my swill, and they shall have it.
First up we have the traditional share: her first album of vocal-and-synth chantmusic, released privately on cassette only back in 1982 and never seen since... no tracks from it appear on the new CD I mentioned that just hit the streets. This is from a bootleg remaster on the B Free label and despite the occasionally roughish sound, it's a prime example of Alice being Alice.
Alice Coltrane
Turiya Sings
1982

01 Jagadishwar
02 Ramachandra
03 Krishna Krishna
04 Rama Kathra
05 Yamuna Tira Vihari
06 Charanam
07 Govinda Hari
08 Hara Siva
09 Pranadhana

Total time: 58:20

Alice Coltrane - vocals, synthesizer, organ
Murray Adler - strings conductor

boot CD of the original cassette, remastered by the B Free label
262 MB FLAC here
As I mentioned, there's a reward this time for slogging through my barren, empty prose... and it's a tasty one indeed. You may recall that back last September I reimagined the impulse! label compilation The Gentle Side of John Coltrane, expanding it to a 3CD opus and straightening out the occasionally ridiculous, ungentle track selection.
Well, despite my sinus/ear issues this week, I managed to do nearly the same thing to the analogous impulse! 2LP Alice Coltrane comp entitled Reflection On Creation and Space, released on the label in 1973. To fit the constraints of vinyl, most of the original tracks were edited down to shorter versions -- a butchery of exsanguinated proportions -- so I went back and recreated the whole deal with the unedited cuts, even reconstructing an instance where they had joined two related compositions from two separate albums in an even more effective and inclusive manner than they did.
To really take things over the galactic threshold, I included a full 75-minute overview of her Warner Bros. output from after she split impulse!, so now the thing is three CDs worth and totals almost three-and-a-half hours. I told you I had treats for you if you'd keep stabbing yourself in the eyes with my nonsense words a bit longer, and I plan to deliver!
Anyway this little reconstruction can be accessed here, for those that want to go deeper. I'd advise pulling the whole lot down and letting your Sunday vibe take a Journey In Satchidananda for a while. Whatever you choose, please remember the singular visionary Alice Coltrane, born this day in 1937 and still supplying the Galactic magic carpet, even ten years removed from the physical plane. Enjoy... and Om Shanti!--J.
8.27.1937 - 1.12.2007