The legacy of a pioneering jazz musician

The name Coltrane is familiar to people who know little – if anything – about jazz. saxophonist/composer John Coltrane was one of the genre’s key figures, and his talismanic name, iconic reputation, and stellar music transcended the jazz idiom that bored him. But what the general public probably doesn’t know is that there are two important Coltranes in the history of jazz. The other was John’s wife, Alice Coltrane, born August 27, 1937.

Listen to Alice Coltrane’s spiritual jazz on Apple Music and Spotify.

cosmic music

Alice Coltrane’s career as a solo artist did not begin until her husband’s death, when he died of cancer, aged 40, on July 17, 1967. Her first official release took place the following year, with the 1968 album. cosmic music, which she was credited with jointly with her late husband and added layered orchestral arrangements to some of her studio performances. The album made it clear that Alice – a classically trained pianist from Detroit who had been in John’s band between 1965 and 1967 – was committed to continuing her husband’s mission of making music driven by serious quest to explore the intersection of human and divine love.

His first solo album proper, A monastic trioalso released in 1968 on her husband’s former label, Impulse!, featured Alice playing harp as well as piano on a series of songs that blended hypnotic modal vamps with pronounced blues and gospel inflections. And, over the course of six further highly acclaimed albums for Impulse!, released between 1968 and 1973, Alice embarked on sonic journeys of self-discovery that explored new territories in spiritual jazz.

astral meditation

Via his inspiring records from the early 70s such as Trip to Satchidananda (with Pharoah Sanders), world galaxyand lord of lords, Alice Coltrane patented a unique and personal style of spiritual jazz that was defined by cascading harp glissandi, highly percussive piano playing, swirling organ clouds and lush symphonic orchestral arrangements. This rich musical tapestry was underpinned and unified by a cosmic sense of vision and a passionate interest in Eastern spirituality and religion.

These spiritual concerns would eventually lead Alice to leave the music industry altogether, after a three-album stint at Warner Bros in the late ’70s, to focus on a devout life in a California ashram, where she became spiritual director. of its Vedantic center. . Alice continued to make music during this time – under the name Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda – albeit sporadically.

Although Alice lived in quiet obscurity for many years, by the late 90s hip-hop had brought her back into the public eye. Cypress Hill sampled his 1972 track “Galaxy In Olodumare” on their 1993 hit “I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That”, and throughout the decade his music was also an inspiration for The Beatnuts and Sneaker Pimps.

The end of the 90s saw the release of Astral Meditation: The Music of Alice Coltrane, a compilation inspired by his Impulse! mandate. For those unfamiliar with Alice Coltrane’s work, this makes for a great introduction, even if it’s hard to find now. 2006 The Impulse! Story is however still in print, while for those who prefer their music on vinyl, a rare 1973 double album compilation, Reflection on creation and space (a five-year vision)will reward those who are able to track him down.

A great musical heritage

In 2004, Alice came out of retirement to record a new album for Impulse!, translinear lightproduced by his saxophonist son, Ravi Coltrane. Unfortunately, it was his last. Three years later, on January 12, 2007, she died at the age of 69.

Since then, Alice Coltrane’s music has grown steadily, with a steady stream of reissues confirming the growing public interest in her work. Sampling continued too, with Flying Lotus in particular proving to be an avid disciple in reusing excerpts from his songs for his own records. (Born Steven Ellison, the producer is Alice Coltrane’s great-nephew.)

Alice Coltrane’s influence isn’t just limited to record producers. His music has permeated a new generation of spiritually inclined jazz musicians, including acclaimed American saxophonist Kamasi Washington and up-and-coming British band Maisha, both of which carry his musical DNA.

Want more with Alice Coltrane? Immerse yourself in the history of spiritual jazz.

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