From the Hard Bop of John’s early work to the spiritual music Alice created in her later life – EFG London Jazz Festival Director John Cumming picks a handful of his favourite tracks from the couple’s incredible back catalogue.
Here’s the essential ‘Tranes…
First – a chronological journey through the evolution of John Coltrane’s music as a leader – through Hard Bop, Modal Jazz, sheets of sound, and into the further reaches of free jazz… And travelling through the landmark Jazz labels – Blue Note, Atlantic, Impulse – the label built around Coltrane’s iconic place in the seismic shifts in Jazz during the 60s.
Coltrane described this in 1960 as his favourite album to that date. With a rhythm section that included his fellow sidemen with Miles Davis (the consummate bass and drums team of Paul Chambers and Philly Jones, pianist Kenny Drew, and a couple of then young bloods, trumpeter Lee Morgan, trombonist Curtis Fuller), this is a classic Hard Bop album – but you can already hear the extraordinary Coltrane sound.
Recorded in 1959, two weeks after Coltrane took part in the final sessions for the timeless Miles Davis album Kind of Blue… His first recording as leader for Atlantic serves as a powerful introduction to Coltrane’s ‘sheets of sound’ – described as ‘Trane’s first genuinely iconic record’. Check the title track, but the ballad Naima is another masterpiece.
Too Young to Go Steady – from Ballads
Untypical of the perception of Coltrane at the time, here is the classic quartet of Tyner, Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison, in devastatingly lyrical mode.
Psalm, from A Love Supreme
Roll forward to 1964, and here is the same quartet – by now displaying a creative telepathy that’s rarely been matched in any genre of music – in an album whose impact on jazz history was profound at the time – and has continued to be a massive inspiration on successive generations of musicians and listeners. The final track acts as a passionate resolution of a four part suite of extraordinary power.
Offering, from Expression Coltrane’s final studio recording may well represent the pinnacle of Coltrane’s explorations into a freedom of expression and intensity that took Jazz into a different dimension of musical time and space. Now with a quintet that included fellow saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders, his wife Alice, and drummer Rashid Ali alongside Jimmy Garrison, this is a track that includes both lyrical reflection and a burning saxophone/drum duet of raw power.
And now, Alice Coltrane.
Following John’s death in 1967, Alice continued to create music that drew from the same spiritual and cathartic intensity as in the time they played together.
I Want to See You – from Monastic Trio
Recorded in 1968, the year after John died, this is a tribute to his spirit. Her first solo album, with players from the band that recorded Expression , Sanders, Garrison and Ali – playing harp and piano, this is music that reflects the Eastern modulations, freedom and deep spirituality that infused their work together
Blue Nile, from Ptah the El Daoud
The meditative qualities of Alice’s music surround a nuanced flute duet between Sanders and another great reedman, Joe Henderson.
Hare Krishna, from Universal Consciousness
Maintaining the link with her work with John through the continuing presence of Ali and Garrison, and with master drummer Jack DeJohnette added, the album stands, arguably, as Alice Coltrane’s classic work. A beautiful track, enhanced by string arrangements by Ornette Coleman, no less.
One for the Father, from Transfiguration
Echoes of Gospel alongside harmonies that recall 20th century composers (Messiaen, Stravinsky) create an extraordinary piano solo track from an album that also features bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Roy Haynes.
Leo, from Translinear Light
An intense and deeply felt track from her first recording since Transfiguration, from the album that turned out to be her final recorded statement. Produced by her son Ravi, and featuring a fiery Wurlitzer keyboard solo alongside Ravi (himelf a fine saxophonist) and yet another consummate rhythm section – Jack DeJohnette again, and bassist Charlie Haden. But for her untimely passing in 2007, this is the band that would have played the Barbican that year.
From 2017’s Luaka Bop album World Spirituality Classics, Volume 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda– culled from the four cassettes that Alice recorded and released between 1982 and 1995 at the Sai Anantam Ashram outside of Los Angeles.
And a couple of bonus tracks – John Coltrane as sideman, at the point just before he began his own journey…
Recorded live at Carnegie Hall in 1957, but only discovered in 2005, this is a track from a stunning live set from Thelonious Monk’s short-lived quartet with Coltrane.
Whilst 1959’s Kind of Blue remains one of the most revered of Jazz albums, the title track from the classic album of the previous year is the entry point – a masterpiece of Modal Jazz…
The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda performed by the Sai Anantham Ashram Singers takes place at LSO St Luke’s on Saturday 18 Nov.
Chasing Trane (PG*) is in Cinema 3 on Saturday 18 November.
Pharoah Sanders Quartet + Denys Baptiste + Alina Bzhezhinska’s A Concert for Alice and John takes place in the Barbican Hall on Saturday 18 Nov.