Conventional belief holds that Alice Coltrane
was the dreamy, mellifluous partner in John Coltrane
's late period, out-there sonic explorations. The truth is otherwise, as attentive listening to the recordings the two Coltranes made together in 1966 and 1967 demonstrates. The misapprehension stems from the gentler albums Alice made for Impulse in the first few years following her husband's passing. A Monastic Trio
(1968), Huntington Ashram Monastery
(1969), Ptah, The El Daoud
(1970), Journey In Satchidananda
(1971) and World Galaxy
(1972) were muscular enough, but each was characterised by a reflective, meditative ambience.
This quality was the polar opposite of much of John Coltrane's music following A Love Supreme
(Impulse, 1965)though, as British tenor saxophonist Denys Baptiste
demonstrated on his masterpiece The Late Trane
(Edition, 2017), there was beauty, nuance and stillness in John's late-period albums if you had the ears to hear those things. But ferocity there undoubtedly was, too, and plenty of it. And Alice was a fully paid-up participant in that, again if you had the ears to hear it (admittedly, not always an easy thing to accomplish given the tumult going on around her acoustic piano and harp). Live At The Berkeley Community Theater 1972
puts the final nail in the canard that Alice Coltrane was some sort of wafty harp-playing counterbalance to her husband's shamanistic saxophone. Coltrane is heard on harp and acoustic piano, but her focus for most of the 79 minutes of musicfrom a newly revealed, previously unreleased sound-board recordingis her Wurlitzer organ, here a barely tamed beast revelling in dissonance, decibels and passion.
The four trackseach takes up one side of BCT's double-LP releaseare high energy work-outs totally in the spirit of John Coltrane at his most unleashed. There are moments of calm, but not many of them. Bassist Charlie Haden
and drummer Ben Riley
provide a rock solid foundation for Coltrane's volcanic torrents of sound, which are approached but not exceeded in intensity by Aashish Khan
on sarod, Pranesh Khan on tabla and Bobby W. on tamboura.
The sonic assault is at its height during the opener, "Journey In Satchidananda," a performance in blazing contrast to the 1971 album reading. But the firepower is pretty much maintained over the next three tracks, "A Love Supreme," "My Favorite Things" and "Leo." (It is not clear if the track sequence is as-performed, and Alice's spoken introduction to "Satchidananda" suggests it may have come at the conclusion of the concert). Alice did record one blissed-out version of "A Love Supreme," on World Galaxy
. The Berkeley reading, given a year later, is something else again, closer in feel to the versions of "My Favorite Things" and "Leo" on John's posthumously released Live In Japan
(Impulse, 1991), recorded in 1966 by a full-throttle quintet which included Alice. Live At The Berkeley Community Theater 1972
is released in a limited edition of 750 copies, many of which have already been snapped up. Audio quality is excellent. Hopefully, the album will in due course become available on CD. The calibre of the music and its recording certainly justify a general release.
Side One: Journey In Satchidananda. Side Two: A Love Supreme. Side Three: My Favorite Things. Side Four: Leo.
Alice Coltrane: harp, acoustic piano, Wurlitzer organ; Ashish Khan: sarod; Charlie Haden: bass; Pranesh Khan: tabla, naal; Ben Riley: drums; Bobby W.: tamboura, percussion.