As Alice ‘Turiya’ Coltrane’s son, Ravi Coltrane, admonished, this is not a jazz album. Although Alice Coltrane, John Coltrane’s wife and musical partner, had her share of groundbreaking spiritual jazz albums in the ‘70s, Kirtan: Turiya Sings falls far from that camp. Those familiar with Alice’s (we will revert to first-name basis) career, know that by the early ‘80s she had become a guru and a spiritual teacher, establishing her community called The Vedantic Center, northwest of Los Angeles. Leading up to that, she had immersed herself in Eastern philosophies, mythologies, and Vedic religious practices in the later ‘70s. The original recording of these songs was released exclusively on cassette in 1982 for the students of the ashram. Those recordings also included synthesizers, strings, and sound effects in addition to her voice and Wurlitzer organ. In 2004 Ravi found mixes of just the latter and knew that it should be released as just an intimate recording of the two instruments.
The immediacy of the recording leaves the listener with some trepidation is to whether it’s permissible to violate what is clearly a sacred space as Alice is in her own realm of spirituality and devotion. This is so unadorned and pure – just Alice singing over the chords she plays on the Wurlitzer. The best Christian frame of reference is a solemn church service with the pipe organ swelling to fill the cathedral space, with a lone beautiful voice singing a hymn. Alice’s recording, likely done in her own home or isolated sanctum, somehow has those same qualities of spaciousness. Alice is singing in Sanskrit so most will not be able to focus on the lyrics, just the deep passion of praise in her vocals. Clearly it makes a great soundtrack for one’s meditation.
Keep in mind that although this unreleased recording is “new” is one sense, it is representative of Alice’s musical muse at the time. She had retreated from the jazz world to her Vedanta Center. There she quietly recorded music at the ashram and distributed it to her community’s members on four privately pressed — but professionally recorded — cassette tapes from the mid-’80s to the mid-’90s: Turiya Sings, Divine Songs, Infinite Chants, and Glorious Chants. T
Admittedly, the music herein is a bit difficult to describe but consider that her son, Ravi, grew up hearing her sing this way while playing the Wurlitzer. As he listens to these recordings, he likely hears far more influences than most of us will. He says this, “On this album, your ear will be turned toward the sound of the blues, to gospel, to the Black American church, often combined with the Carnatic singing style of southern India. You will hear beautiful harmonies influenced by Alice’s Detroit/Motown roots, her bebop roots, John Coltrane’s impact, and her absorption of European classical music, particularly that of her favorite: Igor Stravinsky. Yet, at the same time, this is functional music. Its purpose is, with light and love, to praise the names of the Supreme. On this album, your heart and spirit will be turned toward divine inspiration and appreciation.’’ Kudos to those who hear all the influences he mentions as in just a couple of listens this writer only hears a few. It will likely take multiple listens to hear all of them.
For many, this will be a curiosity recording – a glimpse of Alice Coltrane late in her career immersed deeply in her own spiritual world. Some will, as mentioned, find it to be the perfect soundtrack for their own meditation. Whatever one’s interest, however – accept it for what it is and don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ve found a companion album to Journey in Satchidananda, or Universal Consciousness, or the Ravi Coltrane -produced 2004 Translinear Light. Alice, long regarded as one of the pillars of spiritual jazz, is at her most deeply spiritual in this setting, one that has only minute traces, if any, associated with jazz.