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Forgotten Classic: Alice Coltrane ‘Journey In Satchidananda’

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Alice Coltrane did not have the far-reaching impact of her husband John and was often overshadowed by his greatness. But much like A Love Supreme, Alice’s music was truly transcendental and this album is a great introduction to her mystical sound. Spirituality ran throughout her musical life from the time she started as a church organist and classical pianist before giving herself over to jazz as an expression of her own creativity. It was John who opened the door even wider, as he taught her about Eastern religions and philosophies and encouraged her to meditate.

After his death, she grew more interested in Vedanta and self-realisation, became a devotee of Swami Satchidananda and took a vow of celibacy. Her music paralleled her spiritual development as Alice created her own divine musical language. But this wasn’t a trendy phase; she walked the walk. After becoming a follower of Sai Baba, she founded her own ashram, became a swami, and made the choice to forego making music for commercial purposes, preferring to be a “private” musician, which she remained until she re-emerged with a new record shortly before her death.

Journey in Satchidananda is a fusion of modal jazz, African and Indian blues, Middle Eastern music and drone music with Alice’s harp and piano playing at the forefront. She is joined by saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, Cecil McBee and Charlie Haden on bass, Tulsi on tamboura, Vishnu Wood on oud, Majid Shabazz on bells and tambourine, and Rashid Ali on drums. The result of this amalgamation of sounds and instrumentalists is a truly deep, far out, transformative listening experience. When I worked at the record shop Dance Tracks in New York City, I used to put this album on during a mellow Sunday and it always transported me beyond the vinyl bins (and probably made me a more patient and pleasant retailer).

My friend’s child said of Alice Coltrane’s music, “It sounds like a miracle.” Whether or not you follow the Vedantic teachings, you may also temporarily achieve a higher state of consciousness while listening to this album. Take the journey.

by Colleen Murphy

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