Wednesday, November 10, 2004


Got two Alice Coltrane albums in the mail today: World Galaxy and Universal Consciousness. (I actually got World Galaxy from Forced Exposure, not Amazon, and saved myself a few bucks by doing so.)

I have six Alice Coltrane discs, all but one purchased within the last 6-8 months. I started, some time ago, with Ptah, The El Daoud, which is okay, but it's her most straight-ahead album (that I've heard). There are no strings, and the pieces are mostly Eastern modal vamps with some relatively sedate saxophone solos by Joe Henderson and Pharoah Sanders. At this point, it's probably tied with A Monastic Trio as my least favorite AC disc. I wouldn't recommend it as a starting point.

Transfiguration, on the other hand, is a balls-out monsterpiece, virtually a must-hear. It's mostly a trio date, recorded live at UCLA shortly before Alice vanished to become a full-time spiritual healer or whatever. She plays a little harp, which is cool, especially when the string section comes out for a couple of tracks, but the insane nearly-40-minute version of "Leo" that takes up most of Disc 2 (it's a 2-CD set, but surprisingly cheap) is why you should buy it. She really fries the organ, slamming the keys like the wrath of Kali, and sending bursts of howling distortion off the stage into the unsuspecting audience. The rhythm section (Reggie Workman on bass and Roy Haynes on drums) goes absolutely apeshit behind her, Haynes in particular. Alice's generally pacific demeanor is totally belied by this mind-roasting performance.

Universal Consciousness has some of this same lunatic energy, particularly on "Battle At Armageddon" and "The Ankh Of Amen-Ra," which are duos with drummer Rashied Ali. Once again, Alice tears into the organ like nobody since Larry Young, and Ali skitters around like a roach trying to avoid her stomping foot. The album's opening title cut is also pretty hot - it features four violin players (including Leroy Jenkins) along with bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Jack DeJohnette (whom Alice had previously employed on Illuminations, her collaboration with Carlos Santana, which is also well worth your time), and the string arrangements are by Ornette Coleman, which is why they're so jaggedly beautiful, like a sculpture made from barbed wire and broken glass gleaming at sunrise. Coleman also arranges two other tracks on the album, "Oh, Allah" and "Hare Krishna," and they're, if possible, even weirder and more out than the title track.

World Galaxy is actually credited to "Alice Coltrane With Strings," and it's a more sedate record. The only exception to the generally soothing vibe is the closing version of "A Love Supreme," which features spiritual recitations from Swami Satchindananda (woo hoo), but which makes up for that by including some meat-eating sax by Frank Lowe (why every home in America doesn't contain a copy of his Black Beings is a mystery to me). The whole album is nice, though, and worth hearing even for $30, which is what my copy cost me.

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