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The Impulse Story: Alice Coltrane

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Album Review

The eight tracks that make up multi-instrumentalist Alice Coltrane's volume of The Impulse Story series — single CDs to accompany both the box set The House That Trane Built and Ashley Kahn's book of the same name, is among the most satisfying in the entire collection. The tracks here range widely, documenting an artist who was indeed ahead of her time — and for many still is. Not that she cares. She's taken some 20 years off between her last recording for Warner Bros. and her final recording on this set to devote her time to spiritual concerns — the title cut from her magnificent 2004 comeback release, Translinear Light, is a fitting inclusion here. Like her late husband, John, and like Pharoah Sanders, Alice defined the term "spiritual jazz" with her work. This disc kicks off with "The Sun," from the joint Coltrane/Coltrane outing Cosmic Music issued in 1968 (there are vocal recitations from Pharoah Sanders and John that were recorded earlier) and issued on CD as bonus material on A Monastic Trio. The other track from that album is the truly wonderful "Lovely Sky Boat," with Alice on harp, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Rashied Ali playing drums. "Jaya Jaya Rama" is from the 1969 release Huntington Ashram Monastery, a record that has yet to be issued on CD in the United States — though it has been beautifully remastered in Japan. The title cuts from Ptah the El Daoud, Journey in Satchidananda, and Universal Consciousness — perhaps her finest studio moment from the 1970s — are all included. Alice plays harp, organ, and piano, and arranges strings, and other musicians present on various pieces include Sanders, Joe Henderson, Ron Carter, Ben Riley, Cecil McBee, Ali, Leroy Jenkins, Jack DeJohnette, and even Ornette Coleman. Also rightfully included here by Kahn, who compiled these volumes, is "Excerpt from the Firebird" — yes, the one composed by Igor Stravinsky where her Wurlitzer and harp are balanced by timpani and other percussion instruments. She also did the string arrangement. The aforementioned "Translinear Light," with Ms. Coltrane playing piano in the company of son Ravi playing tenor, bassist Charlie Haden, and DeJohnette on drums, is nearly ten minutes of sophisticated musical journeying that brings listeners full circle. All the titles here reflect the deep musical quest of the artist to speak from the heart of her spirituality. There isn't a weak moment here. And while true real fans can quibble all they wish about what got left off, there is no denying that this is one very powerful compilation and an excellent introduction to one of the most singular artists the "jazz" genre has ever produced. Highly recommended.


Born: August 27, 1937 in Detroit, MI

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Alice Coltrane was an uncompromising pianist, composer and bandleader, who spent the majority of her life seeking spiritually in both music and her private life. Music ran in Alice Coltrane's family; her older brother was bassist Ernie Farrow, who in the '50s and '60s played in the bands of Barry Harris, Stan Getz, Terry Gibbs, and especially Yusef Lateef. Alice McLeod began studying classical music at the age of seven. She attended Detroit's Cass Technical High School with pianist Hugh Lawson and...
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