Last Friday, right after the Mayor was on-air, I appeared on The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC to discuss an album very close to my heart, Alice Coltrane’s Journey in Satchidananda, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. Ten years ago, few people would have slotted it in canon alongside well-established albums like Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, so perception and recognition of Alice’s genius is slowly growing. As you can imagine, I was honored to be able to discuss this profound piece of music.
“Lots of artists embraced gurus and spiritual garments during the 1960s and 70s, but few actually embodied it completely like Alice Coltrane did. When I visited her ashram in 2014, it was disarming to see the portrait of a woman I knew from all of her albums, now presented in the beatific soft light of a religious leader and guru. There’s a sense of conflict inherent in her music, beauty and chaos entwined, jazz tradition and the unknowable are all there at once. The original Turiya Sings tapped into that liminal space. These are ancient Indian hymns swaddled in the new-fangled synthesizer technology of the time. It’s a speedball of sound, both mystical and dinky.”
I’ve written a fewtimes about Alice Coltrane and was honored to write about how perception of her has shifted since the 1970s to where she is now as revered as her husband, John Coltrane. When a reissue of Turiya Sings was announced earlier this year, it had many fans excited at finally owning this grail of an album. But what ultimately came out though is far different, so the story became a questioning as to who gets to decide on the artist’s vision. It’s something Alice herself grappled with in releasing her late husband’s albums with additional strings and whatnot. And now, her own musical choices are brought into question with this release.
The Coltrane Legacy is heavy indeed and with two spiritual masters and negotiating their earthly messages is a heavy task indeed. There are many debates to be had about why a more “pure” version was selected for release, but the excuses as to why the original wasn’t part of it is odd. I do know that it’s misleading to say that the master tapes for Turiya Sings don’t exist (they do and they have been remastered), but that’s beside the point. Suffice to say, it’s a real missed opportunity to properly present some of her finest work to the world. And here’s hoping that we won’t have to wait decades for a proper reissue of Turiya Sings.
“Communicating with people was found to be like suffering judgment. In fact, it was almost impossible for me to dwell upon earthly matters, and equally impossible for me to bring the mind down to mundane thoughts and general conversations.”