Cosmic Music by Alice and John Coltrane is composed of two of John’s pieces featuring his wife on piano (the couple’s first studio recordings together), and two of Alice’s compositions recorded at the Dix Hills studio. The Alice session took place January 29th, 1968 and produced the masterful “Lord Help Me to Be” and “The Sun” from this album as well as “Ohnedaruth,” which debuted later that year on her A Monastic Trio.
Far-reaching blues motifs and brave instrumental expressions by Alice on piano, Pharoah Sanders on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Ben Riley on drums immortalized these recordings as essential Coltrane, and bestowed new life into John’s memory with his recent widow commanding the ship.
A Monastic Trio
A Monastic Trio, Alice’s debut with Impulse! Records, was recorded primarily on June 6th, 1968 at the home with the exception of “Ohnedaruth,” recorded earlier that year on January 29th. The January session featured Ben Riley (known mostly from his landmark recordings with Thelonious Monk) on drums, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Pharoah Sanders on tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, and flute. The June recording, making up the bulk of the album, included Rashied Ali, one of Alice’s primary collaborators, on drums, and Jimmy Garrison on bass.
Alice performed some of her greatest piano work on “Gospel Trane” and “I Want To See You,” and stunningly captured the angelic textures of the harp on “Lovely Sky Boat,” “Oceanic Beloved,” and “Atomic Peace.” So much is communicated within the limited trio framework, as Alice’s swelling compositions of hope and praise achieve a symphonic landscape of sound.
Huntington Ashram Monastery
Huntington Ashram Monastery was recorded at the home on May 14th 1969 with Rashied Ali on drums and the illustrious Ron Carter on bass. Alice played harp on the title track, “Turiya,” and on “Paramahansa Lake,” and piano on the album’s other cuts. Picking up from Monastic Trio with the addition of Carter, Alice on this album explored the inner workings of her instruments and chord progressions to stunning depths.
Harp and bass move around each other with an ease of harmonic prowess and ethereality only achievable by masters like Carter and Coltrane, while Ali’s soft yet urgent strokes provide a perfectly fitted, malleable backbone. The spiritual nature of the music is front and center. Alice’s liner notes explain, “ashram means ‘hermitage.’ It is sometimes spelled ‘ashrama.’ Of the many humanly-constructed ashrams and monasteries throughout the world, I feel that the real ‘ashrama’ is in your heart.” This enlightened concept is translated uniquely on each of the album’s six tracks.
Ptah The El Daoud
Ptah The El Daoud was a leap for Alice Coltrane and the culture of jazz music in general. Recorded at the beginning of 1970 on January 26th, Coltrane rang in the new decade with music that raised the bar for women in jazz and the agency of artists to record at home on their own terms. With Coltrane on piano (except for “Blue Nile,” on which she played harp), Pharoah Sanders and Joe Henderson (who would continue to make great music with Alice later in the 70s) moving between tracks from tenor saxophone to alto flute, Ben Riley on drums, and Ron Carter on bass, the players showcased their musicality with grace and necessity.
The room itself is integral to the equation as well. Alice explained in the liner notes her decision to have Sanders’ more transcendental performances on the right channel of the stereo landscape, with Henderson’s “intellectual side” occupying the left. This organization of sound aids in the creation of an atmosphere, one of comfort in expression from the home setting and the intimacy in each player’s clear, spacious parts. Coltrane explains the meaning of Turiya, of “Turiya and Ramakrishna,” the second offering on the album, as “a state of consciousness – the high state of Nirvana, the goal of human life.” Within the concrete boundaries of the home studio, Coltrane’s ensemble achieves boundlessness in expression through their command over the instruments and of Alice’s compositions.
Journey in Satchidananda
Journey in Satchidananda is nothing short of an iconic achievement in jazz. Recorded at the home on November 8th, 1970 with Alice on piano and harp, Pharoah Sanders on soprano saxophone and percussion, Cecil McBee on double bass (except “Isis and Osiris” which features Charlie Haden on bass), Rashied Ali on drums, Vishnu Wood on oud, Majid Shabazz on bells and tambourine, and Tulsi on tanpura, Coltrane expanded musical horizons for herself with the addition of new and unique instruments, and for listeners with the perfected blend of American jazz and Eastern spiritual sounds that the album offers.
Alice composed the music after travels to India and studies with Swami Satchidananda, a leader in the Hindu-influenced movements of the time. These inspirations lead Coltrane down a path of rigorous study in these spiritual and musical traditions. The results, as realized by some of the finest players in jazz alongside fellow Swami devotees, are stunning.
Universal Consciousness, Alice’s fifth album as leader, features two pieces, “Battle at Armageddon” and “The Ankh of Amen-Ra,” recorded at the home on June 4th, 1971. On “Battle of Armageddon,” Alice on organ and Rashied Ali on drums explore a sweeping landscape of sound with visceral improvisations and an energy that captures the intensity Coltrane’s transcendental journey.
She flies up and down the entire range of the keyboard, referencing Eastern melodic intervals and American church music in tandem, while Ali’s gong-like cymbal work and erratic rhythms intensify the ecstatic atmosphere. “The Ankh of Amen-Ra” opens with Coltrane’s unique and ethereal harp work paired with Ali’s massive wind chimes sound, evolving from there into another organ and drums duo that closes the album with a reflective return to a more traditional blues. These far-reaching and genre-spanning offerings are fitting last documents from the home studio, as they present a deeply emotional, spiritual, and virtuosic musical atmosphere.
I want to be a force for good
The Music is in your heart, your soul, your spirit