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Alice Coltrane: The Impulse Story

Chris May By

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Alice Coltrane has always had a raw deal from the jazz world. Either patronised or dismissed out of hand, she's suffered the double whammy of one, being a woman in what (until very recently) was overwhelmingly a man's world, and two, being John Coltrane's widow—and therefore, by some strange logic, not a serious artist in her own right. At the same time Coltrane has made massive contributions to the preservation and development of her husband's work, she has also maintained her own unique voice—almost single-handedly inventing astral-jazz (and so laying the foundations of world jazz). But she's regularly airbrushed out of the story.

Alice Coltrane is every bit as revolutionary and enduring an artist as the other nine musicians receiving retrospective CD releases in the Impulse! label's ongoing revitalisation project, The House That Trane Built: The Story Of Impulse Records. Yet of them all—the others are Albert Ayler, Gato Barbieri, John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp and McCoy Tyner—Alice Coltrane alone remains on the margins of critical acceptance.

To the label's credit, this latest disc isn't the first time Impulse! has tried to correct the imbalance. In '99, the label released another fine anthology, Astral Meditations: The Music Of Alice Coltrane (which duplicates only three tracks from The Impulse Story), and in '04 released Coltrane's first non-self published album in over 25 years, the outstanding Translinear Light (featuring two key collaborators from the early days, Charlie Haden and Jack DeJohnette).

The Impulse Story cherry picks seven tracks recorded between '68 and '72, Coltrane's purple period, proceeding chronologically and dipping into key albums: John & Alice Coltrane: Cosmic Music, A Monastic Trio, Huntington Ashram Monastery, Ptah The El Daoud, Journey In Satchidananda, Universal Consciousness and Lord Of Lords. The only important album of the period which is omitted is '71's Alice Coltrane With Strings: World Galaxy. The title track from Translinear Light closes the set.

This is a well-chosen and well-sequenced selection—from the relatively straight-ahead jazz of "Jaya Jaya Rama" through the majestic astral-jazz of "Lovely Sky Boat," "Ptah The El Daoud" and "Journey In Satchidananda," to the new star system explorations of "Universal Consciousness" and "Excerpts From The Firebird." This Impulse Story can usefully be listened to alongside the sister CD from Alice Coltrane's fellow traveller, Pharoah Sanders, who's featured on three tracks here.


Track Listing: The Sun; Lovely Sky Boat; Jaya Jaya Rama; Ptah The El Daoud; Journey In Satchidananda; Universal Consciousness; Excerpts From The Firebird; Translinear Light.

Personnel: Track 1: Alice Coltrane: piano; Pharoah Sanders: flute, invocation; Jimmy Garrison: bass; unknown: percussion; Ben Riley: drums; John Coltrane: invocation. Track 2: Alice Coltrane: harp; Jimmy Garrison: bass; Rashied Ali: drums. Track 3: Alice Coltrane: piano; Ron Carter: bass; Rashied Ali: drums, percussion. Track 4: Alice Coltrane: piano; Joe Henderson: tenor saxophone; Pharoah Sanders: tenor saxophone; Ron Carter: bass; Chuck Stewart: percussion; Ben Riley: drums. Track 5: Alice Coltrane: harp; Pharoah Sanders: soprano saxophone, percussion; Tulsi: tamboura; Cecil McBee: bass; Majid Shabazz: bells, tambourine; Rashied Ali: drums. Track 6: Alice Coltrane: harp, organ, string arranger; John Blair, Julius Brand, Leroy Jenkins, Joan Kalisch: violins; Jimmy Garrison: bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums; Ornette Coleman: transcription. Track 7: Alice Coltrane: organ, harp, percussion, tympani, arranger, conductor; Ben Riley: drums, percussion; Charlie Haden: bass; Ronald Folsom, James Getzoff, Janice Gower, William Henderson, Nathan Kaproff, Lou Klass, Bernard Kundell, Leonard Malarsky, Gordon Marron, Sidney Sharp, Gerald Vinci: violins; Marilyn Baker, Samuel Boghosian, Rolice Dale, Myra Kestenbaum, Leonard Selic, David Schwartz: violas; Jesse Ehrich, Anne Goodman, Ray Kelley, Jan Kelly, Jerry Kessler, Raphael Kramer, Edgar Lustgarten: cellos. Track 8: Alice Coltrane: piano; Ravi Coltane: soprano saxophone, percussion; Charlie Haden: bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums.

Title: The Impulse Story | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Impulse!

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