Alice Coltrane – The Carnegie Hall Concert

The John & Alice Coltrane Home, Impulse! and Verve Label Group are calling 2024 the Year Of Alice, but for a growing contingent of jazz fans, it’s been her year for some time now. The stature of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda, harpist, pianist, composer, spiritual leader and wife of John, has only increased after her death in 2007 at the age of 69. Her career as a jazz pianist began in her hometown of Detroit in the 1950s, but her life was forever changed when she met Coltrane in 1963. Two years later, they were married and the following year, she replaced McCoy Tyner in his classic quartet. She recorded, performed, started a family, and walked the spiritual path with John until his untimely death in 1967.


Her first album as leader, A Monastic Trio, arrived in December 1968, a post-bop spiritual gem that marked the first appearance of her harp and contained the seeds of the devotional music that would come later. Her work began to reflect a burgeoning interest in Hinduism and Indian music, first on Ptah, The El Daoud and taken even further on Journey In Satchidananda with the addition of tanpura and oud. A string of increasingly more meditative albums would follow, with her final studio album Translinear Light arriving in 2004. As interest in the music of both Coltranes continues to grow, more of it finds its way out of the vaults. The Carnegie Hall Concert is the latest, marking Alice’s first appearance there as bandleader. It was 1971 and she had just released Journey… For this set, an augmented ensemble was assembled: saxophonists Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp, bassists Jimmy Garrison and Cecil McBee, drummers Ed Blackwell and Clifford Jarvis, with Kumar Kramer and Tulsi Reynolds on harmonium and tamboura, respectively. Impulse! commissioned the original multi-track recording but didn’t release it at the time. Parts of this set have since been bootlegged but this official version offers a marked improvement in quality.


It opens with the titular track from Journey…, Alice’s harp as intimate as it is transcendental, waves of cascading sound that pile on top of each other in a cosmic spiral. Her equally entrancing composition “Shiva-Loka” is next, followed by two of John’s: “Africa” from Africa/Brass and “Leo” from Interstellar Space. All four are tremendous, but this version of “Africa” is pure cosmic fire. Stretching out to nearly half an hour, Shepp and Sanders spare no energy as they trade exhilarating solos. Throughout, the music contracts in on itself, seeming to defy physics. It’s like this on the studio albums but one has the sense that it always went even further live. This set is a confirmation and welcome addition to the catalogue of recorded Alice Coltrane music and spiritual jazz.

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