April 11, 2016

Alice Coltrane - Journey In Satchidananda (1971)

Yusef Lateef recorded what many consider his magnum opus, Eastern Sounds, in 1961. It must have been pretty mind blowing music to hear at that time. Eastern Sounds was the album on which he came into full maturity playing the oddest wind instruments to be heard in jazz, such as oboe and bassoon in order mimic styles heard in the Middle East, South and Southeastern Asia. He also played a handful of unique wind instruments alien to the United States. He rejected the term "jazz" and his name change indicates how his spirituality was influenced by Asian cultures and ideals. Then, 10 years later, Journey In Satchidananda is released by John Coltrane's widow Alice...

...and this shit is simply on another level. Yusef's compositions were original no doubt, but he was always vibing on a pretty identifiable blues & bop pattern, Alice almost completely does away with any remnants of the "jazz" label for this album. She brings an Indian tamboura player into the mix (which wasn't heard on her previous album, Ptah The El Daud), and things change quite a bit. My words can't really describe the beauty that radiates out of that instrument, and I'm surprised it wasn't used more often on other early 1970s avant-garde jazz albums. John Coltrane's top prodigy, Pharoah Sanders, calms down quite a bit for the few albums he played with Alice. From the 60s to at least the mid part of the 70s, most of Pharoah's records were free jazz epics, featuring one or two lengthy pieces filled with all sorts of saxophone shrieking, so this is definitely a change in pace for him. His role as the frontman and only horn for Journey In Satchidananda proves his versatility and shows that he isn't just some noisy hack of a saxophone player. Like I mentioned before, most of the songs on Journey are hard to even call jazz music through the intense Asian dedication, but even so, Alice doesn't forget her jazz background and made an album that not only demonstrates the importance of reaching out to other sounds in the world (both in terms of following a deep personal ambition and uniting a chaos filled human race), but using these other vibes to explore and flavor her own music, and not just make an imitation. Stopover Bombay is more or less the odd track out; where she guides the band through a bluesy groove that's more "jazz" than anything else on here, but for the other spots in the album, her role is to tease out a beautiful atmosphere with harp forays, so the job lies on bassist Cecil McBee to carry the jazz influence.

There are those bassists that serve as a band's glue; their job is to play so tight to the music they blend in like they aren't there most of the time (think Paul Chambers or Ron Carter). Then there are those bassists that are very vocal and borderline obnoxious in the dynamics and textures they play with (think John Coltrane's bassist Jimmy Garrison or the great Richard Davis--who played on Out To Lunch and Van Morrison's Astral Weeks). McBee is in the latter group, and man does he carry the jazz torch well on this album; his direct basslines are sappy and bluesy, but he never looses track of where he is and connects the almost Afro-Blue or Alabama feel to these Asian influences. Charlie Haden is featured on the final track (from a different live session), and he brings much of the same thoughtful intensity--he was Ornette Coleman's bassist, after all. Coltrane retains drummer Rashied Ali from the final, and very crazy, John Coltrane band, and his liveliness keeps you from falling asleep on the cyclical tamboura lines--and he is an exciting choice as well. Journey In Satchidananda is a one of a kind record that everybody and anybody with different musical interests should hear before they die. It's very potent avant garde jazz that is historically important as well as very easy to listen to and easy to enjoy.


Journey In Satchidananda