Saturday, August 19, 2017

Alice Coltrane - 1976 - Eternity

Alice Coltrane

01. Spiritual Eternal 2:55
02. Wisdom Eye 3:07
03. Los Caballos 11:22
04. Om Supreme 9:33
05. Morning Worship 3:30
06. Spring Rounds 5:59

Harp, Organ, Piano, Fender Rhodes, Tambourine — Alice Coltrane
Violin — Murray Adler, Nathan Kaproff, Gordon Marron,
Sid Sharp, Polly Sweeney
Viola — Rollice Dale, Pamela Goldsmith, Mike Nowack
Vocals — Edward Cansino, Deborah Coomer, Susan Judy,Jean Packer
Cello — Anne Goodman, Ray Kelly, Jaqueline Lustgarten
Trombone — George Bohanon, Charles Loper
Trumpet — Oscar Brashear, Paul Hubinon
French Horn — Vincent DeRosa, Arthur Maebe, Alan Robinson,Marilyn Robinson
Bassoon — Donald Christlieb, Jack Marsh
Contrabassoon — Jo Ann Caldwell
Oboe — John MacArthur Ellis
Bass — Charlie Haden
Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone — Terry Harrington, Jackie Kelso
Tuba — Tommy Johnson
Flute — Hubert Laws
Piccolo — Louise di Tullo
Bass Clarinet — Julian Spear
English Horn — Ernie Watts
Alto Flute, Soprano Saxophone — Jerome Richardson
Drums, Gong — Ben Riley
Congas — Armando Peraza

The discography of Alice Coltrane was one seldom explored when released, and it remains that way today. I attribute this to the widow of the inimitable of John Coltrane‘s inability to contain her talent. In a music world where output is confined to categories, Alice Coltrane continually released music that could not be described by a single genre tag. While on the one hand, it only makes her work all the more exciting and worthwhile to people like me, it was understandably difficult to market. The base for her sound was rooted in the already obscure Spiritual/Avant-Garde Jazz which, although great, was never the most popular style of music. After years of recording for the one label she might have fit in at, Impluse! Records (“the house that Trane built”), and even with every factor working against her in gaining general acclaim, somehow Warner Brothers Records signed on to release her 1975 effort, the result being the timeless “Eternity.”

Not too far into the album does one realize Alice Coltrane’s uniqueness. “Eternity” opens with her swirling and weird distorted Wurlitzer Organ that never would have flown in the mainstream. Of course, I say this not to take anything away from her as the commonly held estimation is not something that changes what I hear in music. This opening tune is entitled “Spiritual Eternal” and also makes use of one of her best talents aside from soloing on organ, harp or piano, that being her training in arrangement. On the opening cut, her organ comes to be backed by an extraordinarily lush R&B/Classical hybrid arrangement. The title of this track (“Spiritual Eternal”) is very fitting. Everything Alice Coltrane did had a spiritual feeling to it. While the album is principally instrumental, there is a strong presence of a strong meaning to the music. Never more so is this true than on the lone song containing vocals, in fact is Coltrane’s first to do so, “Om Supreme.” The song has a three-minute-long introduction with Coltrane playing a Fender Rhodes without accompaniment. When the difficult to decipher vocals come in, you cannot help but try to determine the meaning of this singing with either is in a strange dialect or complete non-sense. Either way “Om Supreme” has to be one of the most beautiful songs composed, and it’s hard to believe that its carried out with one electric piano and a chorus of singers. The eclectic mix of music on “Eternity” is added to by “Los Caballos”, a straight-forward funk piece with some Latin percussion backing Coltrane’s droning organ, and last but not least the classical masterpiece “Spring Rounds from Rite of Spring” which is Coltrane’s interpretation of Igor Stravinsky “The Rite of Spring.”

In a world of uniformity, Alice Coltrane stood out easily as an individual while keeping her integrity as a well trained and talented musician. Although it is not always the case, I think that studying music to the extent Coltrane had hurts one’s ability as they are always so focused on the right way of playing, and not playing with real passion. This is clearly not the case for Alice Coltrane, who, after years of classical training, notably alongside classmate, fellow harpist and spiritual jazz artist, Dorothy Ashby, she never learned any rules and her foundation did not tame her sheer talent in any way. “Eternity,” being her best album in my judgment, is a great chance to experience an eclectic voyage and the spiritual trip that all of Alice Coltrane’s music brings.

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