Listen to this track by jazz pianist, organist, harpist, and musical matriarch Alice Coltrane. It’s “Translinear Light”, the title track to her 2004 album of the same name, Translinear Light. This record was a family affair, with her son Ravi Coltrane producing, and playing saxophones on a level that would make his Dad, John Coltrane, more than proud.
The record was the sound of an artist who was coming out of a recording hiatus, her last record having been released back in 1978. At the time, Coltrane had established herself as something of a Eastern philosophy figurehead, founding the Vedantic Center, as well as having become a seasoned jazz musician with an impressive catalog behind her.
Her feelings about where the music industry was going, which in her opinion at the time was more about moving units than it was making great art (sound familiar?), was what made going on hiatus something of an easy decision.
And what had changed since her long departure?
Well, Alice Coltrane had been known for her forays into the avante garde, and with experimenting with textures that weren’t, up until then, commonly considered in the world of jazz. For instance, there weren’t too many mainstream jazz harpists around, and certainly none that were doing what Coltrane was doing with a harp on a jazz record. I imagine that there was an expectation that Coltrane would update her sound some by 2004, which, depending on your view of the avante garde, was either very good news, or very bad.
But, upon release, this record was received warmly, and rightly so. She covered traditional material as well as a couple of pieces by her famous husband. But, this is the piece that shines for me. Coltrane’s skills on the piano were honed long before she’d even met John Coltrane, having played jazz as an intermission pianist for none other than Bud Powell while in France in the early ’60s.
Here, her pianist’s chops are the perfect melodic foil to her son Ravi’s tart and bluesy saxophone. By this time, she’d taken her meditative approach to instrumental music that included a great many references and influences to Eastern scales and modes, blended with an accessible approach to hard-bop jazz.
The result is music that sounds downright spiritual, which should come as no surprise given Coltrane’s predilection toward that end of the human experience. The piece moves from delicate and dreamy, to tempestuous, and back again. It helps too, of course, that the other musicians featured on the record are absolutely top flght, including bassists Charlie Haden and James Genus, and drummers Roy Haynes, Jeff “Tain” Watts, and Jack DeJohnette.
But, this return to the world of mainstream jazz was her last foray, with this being her last record. She died in 2007.
Ravi Coltrane continues as an active musician and producer.
Check out Ravicoltrane.com.
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