[JPL] Communing With the Astral, Spiritual and Tuneful

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Wed Oct 25 19:19:52 EDT 2006

October 24, 2006
Music Review | 'Alice Coltrane'
Communing With the Astral, Spiritual and Tuneful 
NEWARK, Oct. 22 — The pianist Alice Coltrane, the
widow of John Coltrane, continued to play after making
her run of jazz-related albums in the 1970’s, but with
different intentions. She played for religious
purposes. In 1983 she established the Sai Anantam
ashram in Agoura, Calif., where she is known as
Swamini A. C. Turiyasangitananda. The Vedic scriptures
of ancient India are studied there, as well as
scriptures from the Bible, and Buddhist and Islamic

You might not think all this relevant enough for the
first paragraph of a review, but her Sunday night
concert here at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center
made it so. Ms. Coltrane has performed a few times in
recent years with her son, the saxophonist Ravi
Coltrane, in New York: once at Town Hall in 1998, and
again at Joe’s Pub in 2002. (Both times, she was on
his bandstand, and just for a few songs.) In 2004 Ms.
Coltrane made her first jazzish record in 26 years,
“Translinear Light,” produced by Ravi Coltrane. This
year he encouraged his mother to undertake a
three-stop tour with him and a few other first-rate
jazz musicians; Sunday’s show connected her new work
to her old work, and to her husband’s and her son’s as

The word before the curtain rose was that she would
perform in a quartet with Mr. Coltrane, the bassist
Charlie Haden and the drummer Jack DeJohnette. That
sounded promising, musically. But the evening was
managed so that the audience would think of Ms.
Coltrane as more than a musician. Susan Taylor, the
editorial director of Essence magazine, introduced the
concert’s first half. She described visiting Ms.
Coltrane at the ashram, or religious community, and
declared that she had “really created the next world,”
and more, that “it is the world that our children are
praying for.” 

On musical grounds alone, the first set went high and
low. Mr. Haden had fallen ill, and so Drew Gress —
part of Ravi Coltrane’s working group — filled in on
bass. This quartet started with “Sita Ram,” a
traditional raga; Ms. Coltrane turned on an electronic
tamboura to establish a drone, and played wavelike
arpeggios on Wurlitzer organ, a keyboard with a hard,
buzzing tone that, not coincidentally, recalls John
Coltrane’s focused saxophone sound. Mr. DeJohnette
played electronic tablas; Mr. Coltrane shook a
tambourine, then played soprano saxophone over the
mode. Rhythmically, they fell in and out of synch.

Things improved with “Translinear Light,” from the
recent album. Ms. Coltrane switched to piano, and Mr.
Coltrane, eventually, to tenor saxophone. It became
modal after the theme, redolent of John Coltrane’s
late period, and she introduced it with more harplike
arpeggios; her son worked up to long, fast, bubbling

The set dipped again with her piece “Jagadishwar,” an
original hymn for which Ms. Coltrane played
synthesizer in a ghastly synthetic orchestral preset.
The music restored itself again with a roaring version
of John Coltrane’s “Africa.” Reggie Workman, who
played on the original recording of the piece, came
onstage as a second bassist, playing bowed lines over
Mr. Gress’s plucked ones.

The second half went beyond music into aesthetically
dicier territory. Ms. Coltrane performed two pieces
from her forthcoming, much less jazz-related CD,
“Sacred Language of Ascension,” a collaboration with
J. J. Hurtak, who has variously been described as a
social scientist, futurist, anthropologist,
archaeologist and expert in Hebrew mysticism. Mr.
Hurtak appeared first to introduce the music. Ms.
Coltrane, he said, “expresses planetary humanity in
its oneness”; the second half would feature “music for
the emergent spirituality of the 21st century.” 

With an orchestra of around 20 pieces, a 17-member
choir and a tabla player, as well as the full band
(minus Mr. Coltrane), the music amounted to fairly
simple gospel-soul, agreeably modulating upward in
whole steps; the religious lyrics were in Hebrew,
Sanskrit and Aramaic. 

For the second piece, a screen came down, and the
audience was shown an accompanying film — first of
computer-enhanced pictures of the planets and the
cosmos, then real clips of violence and atrocities,
followed by scenes of war relief, peacemakers and
religious devotees. This music was conceived with high
aims — not just spiritual and cosmic, but as a kind of
therapy — and presented in a secular concert hall
rather than in a place of worship, it quickly

Mr. Coltrane returned for the finale and apex:
“Acknowledgement,” the first part of John Coltrane’s
“Love Supreme” suite. He played as if he had been
grown tired of waiting. His improvisation came out in
long, speedy, syncopated bursts; for a stretch, the
music narrowed down to a long passage with Mr.
DeJohnette alone. This didn’t at all mimic the groove
of his father’s band; there were more sharp edges and
funk in the gnashing duet. 

When the band came back in, Ms. Coltrane joined the
momentum, pushing her arpeggiated phrases more
emphatically. It was just music, but here the crowd
cheered hardest.

The final stop of Alice Coltrane’s tour, featuring
Ravi Coltrane, Charlie Haden and Roy Haynes, is the
Nob Hill Masonic Center in San Francisco on Nov. 4;


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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