Alice Coltrane

Spiritual Eternal: The Complete Warner Bros. Studio Recordings

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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek

In 2017, Luaka Bop released World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda, a compilation derived from privately pressed cassette recordings the artist made for members of her Sai Antaram Ashram between 1982 and 1995. It set the stage for the re-emergence of the three studio albums Coltrane recorded in 1976 and 1977 for Warner Bros. (An excellent double live set entitled Transfiguration was released in 1978.) The albums included in this set from Real Gone Music were produced by Ed Michel; they bridge her Impulse period and the devotional cassette recordings. Commercially, Eternity (1976), Radha-Krsna Nama Sankirtana (1976), and Transcendence (1977) were mostly ignored. Real Gone presents them in a double-disc package, fully remastered by Mike Milchner, with a handsome 24-page booklet containing a historical liner essay from author and critic Ashley Khan. He features extensive quotes from the artist herself, Warner executives, engineers, and her biographer Franya Berkman. The set also contains liner notes from the original albums.

Eternity is a direct evolution from Coltrane's Impulse years. It features stellar jazzmen in bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Ben Riley, with a large cast of veteran studio musicians -- including percussionist Armando Peraza -- on reeds, brass, woodwinds and strings. Opening track "Spiritual Eternal" introduces listeners to Coltrane's groundbreaking use of the Wurlitzer organ (paired with an analog synth adorned with a pitch bender). She employs blues and gospel inside Eastern modes to bring her full-circle from her early Detroit years. Coltrane also plays harp and Fender Rhodes piano in composed tunes that are juxtaposed with canny improvisation. The album's centerpiece is the glorious "Los Caballos," a funkified Latin blues scorcher. Radha-Krsna Nama Sankirtana all but leaves jazz behind in a blissed-out, celebratory selection of traditional Hindu hymns she (often radically) rearranged. Coltrane plays Wurlitzer, electric piano, and harp, accompanied on all but one tune by a choir of clapping singers. The lone exception is "Om Nama Shivayah" a hard-grooving 19-minute duo with the late John Coltrane Jr. on drums. Ultimately, it's a preview for the later cassette recordings. Transcendence strikes a balance. On two songs, "Radhe-Shyam" and the title track, Coltrane plays harp accompanied only by a string quartet in impressionistic meditations on Carnatic themes. She performs solo on harp, bells, and various Indian percussion instruments on the haunting "Vrendavana Sanchara." On the remainder, her organ and electric piano front a chorus of soulful singers in jazzy yet R&B-drenched interpretations of sacred Hindu songs. Of these, the sweeping soul in "Shinaya" and the trance-like gospelized funk of closer "Sri Nrsimha," are clear standouts. After the Luaka Bop compilation and the re-appearance of her Impulse albums, this set completes Coltrane's artistic evolution and presents her as an utterly accessible creative visionary and technical virtuoso. Decades ahead of jazz's "world fusion" movement, these albums display the deliberate externalization of her profoundly individualized musical process as a direct extension of her spiritual practice. Essential.

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