Alice Coltrane: Shiva-Loka (Impulse!/digital outlets)

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Alice Coltrane: Shiva-Loka (Impulse!/digital outlets)

The rediscovery of pianist/harpist/composer Alice Coltrane in the past decade picks up speed this year with the “Year of Alice” which will see attention shone on her recordings for the Impulse! And Verve labels.

The widow of John has had sporadic attention over the decades so we are forgiven if we haven't paid serious attention previously. Her original albums were hard to find, reissues only occasional.

But in recent years some of her previously unavailable music has been released and now we have this mesmerising, previously unreleased live performance at Carnegie Hall in 1971, four years after her husband's death and shortly after the release of her fourth album Journey in Satchidananda.

On the night she had a large ensemble: saxophonists Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp, bassists Jimmy Garrison and Cecil McBee, drummers Ed Blackwell and Clifford Jarvis, as well as harmonium player Kumar Kramer and Tulsi Reynolds on tamboura.

Despite that pile-up of enormous jazz talent, the concert was initially a quiet and meditative affair opening with her eyes-closed Journey in Satchidananda and Shiva-Loka, both around 15 minutes long and the latter with a lovely harp and bass duet.

Then they turned their attention to John Coltrane's catalogue with interpretations of Africa (almost half an hour long) and Leo. And, as expected with Sanders and Shepp on hand, the music became more exploratory, energised and rhythm driven by the furious Blackwell and Jarvis who push the saxophonists to great heights and urgency.

Alice's piano is a co-conspirator in that push to the outer limits.

This is improvised music where the traveling is as important as the destination and serious jazz listeners will thrill to the solo passages (especially the bassists).

The 20 minute version of Leo will attract attention from serious Coltrane scholars because John only ever recorded in a duo setting with drummer Rachied Ali, a sparking and thrusting recording which had a posthumous release on Interstellar Space in '74.

With the massed ensemble, Alice and friends take the already invigorated original into more dense and demanding territory for an incendiary reading of furiously overlapping saxes, bass and thundering drums. Her piano solo is extraordinary.

Free jazz as its most free, but not chaotic.

Later in the year there will be other reissues of Alice Coltrane's catalogue but meantime here is a performance we might rightly say is “a game of two halves”.


You can hear this album at Spotify here.

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