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Alice Coltrane – “Turiyasangitananda” Review

A merging of cultures to create something otherworldly
Alice Coltrane
Alice Coltrane

Ten years since Alice Coltrane’s passing has seen an unearthed collection of work from her career. Fully titled “World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda”, the album is a melting pot of various influences and cultures that show a huge breadth and depth to her musical palette. It’s my introduction to her, so if you’re new too – we’re in it together!

The Indian gospel like “Om Rama” opens with a chanting choir, rich percussion and a full on Indian raj like feel. Over the course of its nine minutes it slowly slips across to the gospel with various singers really shining only to envelope you in a shimmering bell waterfall and a mash up of the two cultures and styles. They work so well together, it’s uplifting and booty swishing. “Om Shanti” pulls more from the Eastern world with harmoniums and tabla’s providing a long, drawn traveller feel as the call and response vocals carefully fade in and out into a motion blur and back again. It’s spiritual but its also quite psychedelic too. “Rama Rama” brings out the sitars and synths for a spacious dessert odyssey. It’s how I’d imagine Phillip Glass would want to score a desert film in the future.

Some of the best parts of the musical journey is when things get primal and “Rama Guru” channels that with heavy chants, gritty drums and all of the pitch shifting synths you could find. It feels like you are transcending and being taken on an out of body experience and the trippy feel is only enhanced by the way the tempo and sounds twist and bend in the final minute and a half, like you’re being chewed up. It lets the drone like “Hari Narayan” feel more like a cleansing wash although that’s just as synth heavy when it gets going. Everything feels like it’s heading for an emotional epiphany and “Journey to Satchidananda” is that moment. It’s a synth classical piece that feels both like you’ve reached the top of the mountain, but also like you’re mourning the loss of something too. It feels very Electric Light Orchestra goes to Asia but there’s also a tinge of the western world hidden in the choir moments hidden behind the main vocal when it does appear.

Following the catharsis of that ten minute epic, “Er Ra” is a gorgeous harp led track. The playing is magical and flits from region to region of the world. It feels almost like the harp is channelling the shamisen or urhu at times and makes the piece feel like an oriental jazz extravaganza. The album closes with “Keshava Murahara” which is a long string, synth and vocal piece that borrows vocal inflections from different tribes as the music tells a symphonic story.

To say I’ve heard nothing else like is an understatement and I don’t think I’ve quite got the musical background knowledge to explain all the context, cultural mash ups and importance of it all. If you are able to get the vinyl, there are two additional tracks available but I haven’t heard them personally. What is here however is something utterly spellbinding and transformational. Whilst the music was originally released between 1982 and 1995 – there’s a real thread passing through it all so it feels like a cohesive album and the sound quality is excellent. This is like nothing else you’ve heard in 2017.

Recommended Track: “Rama Guru”

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