The album of the 2018 in our house, in that it is the record we’ve played the most, by some considerable distance, and, by dint of this, it’s been a subtle soundtrack to our year.
I’m not sure what prompted me to check out the reviews for the album when it was released in May. The cover art helps – it’s gorgeous, bursting with colour and with Coltrane Turiyasangitananda beaming at its centre. I also heard NPR’s interview with Ravi Coltrane (https://www.npr.org/sections/allsongs/2017/05/15/527975501/all-songs-1-alice-coltranes-astonishing-ecstatic-music), which was so warm and engaging, and which included a performance of ‘Triloka’, a duet between his mother Alice, and the bassist Charlie Haden. It caught me at just the right moment and I found it extraordinary. I can still remember where I was when I heard it, and if loading bags of bricks into the back of a van is not the perfect context for a revelation about ecstatic religious music, then I don’t know what is.
Spotify did the rest, and the record just never left us once we’d let it in to our lives. It became the music we played to help children get to sleep, to fill the background while we ate dinner, and to act as the soundtrack to almost anything we needed to get done. Eventually I bought the vinyl to recognise the impact that the music has had on our family, and to throw something back to Luaka Bop and the people who managed to bring this collection together.
Having said all that, I realise now that I come to write about it, that I have absorbed a few half-heard details, but essentially I know nothing about it.
The story as I have chosen to remember it is that Alice Coltrane became the leader of an ashram at some point in the 1980s and, as one might expect, found herself at various moments surrounded by worshippers with more musical tendencies than the average congregation. In my version of events, these serendipitous jazz super bands got up to perform music as part of the daily rituals, and these joyful jams were recorded, started to circulate on cassette amongst Coltrane aficionados and 30 years later finally got an official release.
The record comes with copious liner notes including, I kid you not, the equivalent of the Ashram’s parish magazine. I haven’t read any of them. I’m curious about the origins of the music, honestly I am. I just haven’t got to the stage of wanting to dig yet. After 8 months. Thinking about it, as I do now for almost the first time, perhaps the music has a now-ness to it that deters me from wanting to break through the surface. Perhaps in keeping with its religious inspirations it encourages a meditative experience, listening in the moment, not allowing oneself to become distracted by narratives and viewpoints.,
[Now, give me a second… wikipedia is calling…]
Actually, no, still can’t be bothered. I’ll just listen to the record instead. There I’ll find what I imagine to be space age trance jazz interpretations of sacred music, swimming with massed chants, handclaps, swirling 90s synths, twinkling harp and countless other intoxicating, mesmerising sounds I’m unable to decode. Woven through much I’ll also hear the album’s major revelation: Coltrane sings,in a strong, warm voice, confident, powerful and assured. When she does, it lifts an intriguing and captivating record into a beautiful and moving one. Meditative, boundless music, worth retreating for.
Tom listened: Good to have you back Rob. Your moratorium on writing had been for far too long!
Well, what an awesome record this is. Nothing like I would have expected (prior to this meeting knowing only that Alice had been the wife of John I thought it would be, at the very least, awkward, if not downright challenging), this record with the ridiculously convoluted title was, in fact, accessible, enveloping and immersive; sounding great from the off, the tracks, though long, never outstaying their welcome. To sum up then, a wonderful surprise and one of the reasons DRC is such a great thing to do (after the curry and the Exeter Uni based chat that is!).