Music Reviews
Alice Coltrane

Alice Coltrane

The Carnegie Hall Concert

Impulse

Alice Coltrane’s performance at Carnegie Hall came at an important crossroads in her development spiritually and professionally. The concert came four years after the death of her husband, the legendary saxophonist John Coltrane, and shortly after a pilgrimage to India. In those four years, Alice was dealing with profound grief, emerging as a band leader in her own right and delving deeper into Hindu spiritualism. The Carnegie Hall concert was Alice’s first time headlining at the venue. It was also a benefit concert for Swami Satchidananda’s Integral Yoga Institute. The concert featured fellow devotees Laura Nyro and the Rascals. Coltrane performed on both piano and harp and was joined by saxophonists Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp, bassists Jimmy Garrison and Cecil McBee, and drummers Ed Blackwell and Clifford Jarvis. The double quartet was augmented by Kumar Kramer playing harmonium and Tulsi Reynolds on tamboura. The 1971 concert was recorded with the intention of releasing it as a live album, but Impulse decided to shelve the project. Over the years, the original four-track recordings were lost. This album was mastered from a two-track reference tape. There are imperfections, such as instruments being buried in the mix, that could not be fixed using the two-track source tape.

The Carnegie Hall Concert is divided into two sections. The first two tunes are Alice’s compositions “Journey in Satchidananda” and “Shiva- Loka.” These feature Coltrane on concert harp and draw inspiration from her transcendental studies. The harp sets the tone for these pieces with shimmery glissandos. The basses and drums act as accents, with Sanders and Shepp adding melodic touches on reeds. I find the pieces to have an otherworldly charm. I feel like I’m either floating in space or under the sea.

The second half of the set finds Coltrane pivoting to piano for two John Coltrane compositions, “Africa” and “Leo.” The ensemble crashes to earth leaving the ethereal behind. The half-hour rendition of “Africa” finds the players in full voice, screaming and squalling and full of life. Alice’s piano is prominent but takes on more of a supportive role. The reed players are really given room to roam. The drummers get their chance to shine on “Leo.”

The Carnegie Hall Concert is the first offering in a collaboration between Impulse and Verve Label Group and the John and Alice Coltrane home to explore and celebrate the life and work of Alice Coltrane. The project is called “Year of Alice,” and there will be a variety of events throughout the year focusing on Alice’s discography and personal story.

John and Alice Coltrane


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