Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda World Spirituality Classics 1 Luaka Bop
After the death of her husband, the revered tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, in 1967, Alice Coltrane is said to have endured a period of trial. She lost weight, couldn’t sleep and succumbed to fevered hallucinations of speaking trees and astral planes, experiencing what she later described in her 1977 memoir as the sounds of “a planetary ether” which knocked her unconscious. Her husband and collaborator, a man with whom she had fathered three children in four short years, was gone.
Her personal redemption as a Hindu swamini renamed Turiyasangitananda, and the music that emerged with it, remains a powerful testament to loss and transformation. The tracks compiled by David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label here are selected from tapes she recorded during the years 1982 and 1995, compositions she shared privately within her spiritual community in California.
What remains most striking about her music is the singular way she imbued hope with tragedy during this period – her firstborn son with Coltrane also died in a car crash in 1982 – placing the synthesisers and organs of her jazz background alongside Vedic devotional songs of India and Nepal. The compilation charts both catharsis and celebration, moving from the communal motion of the ensemble choir on Rama Guru, to the delicate reflection of the harp-led Er Ra. Her vocal work often bears the weight of residual sadness – it is deep and noble, evidently drawn from earthly pain as much as it is celestial awakening. On tracks such as Journey to Satchidananda, it is hard to tell salvation from sorrow.
Luaka Bop are owed enormous credit for facilitating World Spirituality Classics 1, a compilation made possible through collaboration with Alice’s children, who offered access to unreleased master tapes. Through these selected recordings, re-mastered and packaged with genuine devotion, her unique marriage of Eastern classicism and Detroit gospel – of voice and harp, chant and hymn – has been dedicated the care and attention it deserves. 10 years after her own untimely death, Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda is still singing to the universe.