Alice Coltrane

Eternity

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Eternity Review

by Thom Jurek

Within the first 30 seconds of "Spiritual Eternal," the opening track on Alice Coltrane's final studio album, Eternity, the listener encounters the complete palette of Alice Coltrane's musical thought. As her Wurlitzer organ careens through a series of arpeggiated modal drones, they appear seemingly rootless, hanging out in the cosmic eternal. They remain there only briefly before an orchestra chimes in behind her in a straight blues waltz that places her wondrously jagged soloing within the context of a universal musical everything as she moves through jazz, Indian music, blues, 12-tone music, and the R&B stridency of Ray Charles. This is the historical and spiritual context Alice Coltrane made her own, the ability to open up her own sonic vocabulary and seamlessly create an ensemble context for to deliver an unpredictable expression of her vision of harmonic convergence. While many players have picked up on it since, Coltrane's gorgeous arrangements and canny musical juxtapositions never seem forced or pushed beyond margins. Perhaps, as evidenced by "Wisdom Eye," "Om Supreme," and the "Loka" suite, it's because Coltrane already dwells on the fringes both musically and spiritually, where boundaries dissolve and everything is already inseparable. But this does not keep her music from being strikingly, even stunningly beautiful -- check out the killer Afro-Cuban percussion under her soloing on "Los Caballaos," which is rooted in a harmonically complex, diatonic series of whole tones. In numerous settings from orchestra to trio, Ms. Coltrane finds the unspeakable and plays it. Nowhere is this more evident than in "Spring Rounds" from Igor Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," which closes the album. Her faithfulness to the material with a complete orchestra under her control is one of shimmering transcendence that places the composer's work firmly in the context of avant-jazz. Her control over the orchestra is masterful, and her reading of the section's nuances and subtleties rivals virtually everyone who's ever recorded it. Eternity is ultimately about the universality of tonal language and its complex expressions. It is an enduring recording that was far ahead of its time in 1976 and is only now getting the recognition it deserves.

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