Thursday, October 27, 2011

Alice Coltrane and The Flowering of Astral Jazz

The launch of Impulse! Records' 2-on-1 reissue series—which packages two original LPs on one CD—includes six key albums from the glorious first flowering of the astral jazz forged by pianist and harpist Alice Coltrane and saxophonist Pharoah Sanders on Impulse! towards the end of the 1960s.

The style emerged following saxophonist John Coltrane's passing in 1967, when Alice Coltrane and Sanders—both members of John Coltrane's later groups—repositioned at center stage the African and Indian percussion instruments and song forms with which John Coltrane had colored his music during his final years. They married these with hummable melodies, trance music-informed ostinatos, ambient-rich improvisations and, on Alice's albums, harp. The Indian drone instrument, the tamboura, a stripped-down version of the sitar, was emblematic, as were chanted, often wordless, vocals.

Astral jazz continued in full bloom until the mid-1970s, when, in hands other than those of Coltrane and Sanders, it degenerated into cliché and, ultimately, into a blissed-out sub-genre of the fusion movement.

The 2-on-1 reissues are Coltrane's Huntingdon Ashram Monastery (1969), Universal Consciousness (1971), World Galaxy (1972) and Lord Of Lords (1972), and Sanders' Wisdom Through Music (1972) and Village Of The Pharoahs (1973). All these albums have previously been rereleased, but their availability has been patchy and often on relatively expensive, limited editions.

Unlike some of the tackily produced reissues which have been visited on the Impulse! catalogue by a succession of corporate owners since the 1970s, the 2-on-1 series has been put together with care. The LPs' original gatefold sleeves are not used, but they are reproduced in their entirety in the 12-page booklets included with the discs. You may need a magnifying glass to read the original, lengthy liner notes for the Coltrane discs, but read them you can (and it is worth the trouble).

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