Somnambule - Writing About Music

Alice Coltrane ~ Transcendence

Sister work to the preceding ‘Radha – Krsna Nama Sankirtana’, the first three pieces of music on ‘Transcendence’ chart a route from a state of beatitude (‘Rhade – Shyam’) to a sense of the majestic (‘Transcendence’). The first moments of the album sound like a tentative fairy tale, pathos in the drawn violin strings, the dancing footsteps of Alice’s harp. There is a sense of travelling, of a journey, inevitably spiritual, here. There is no ‘jazz’ that I can spy, Alice is in another place or at least striving to arrive at one. Where the harp at times intersects, at times bursts over the strings the music is gorgeous; mountains and valleys are created, as are circling, soaring birds. ‘Rhade Shyam’ could carry on much longer... ‘Vrindavana Sanchara’ removes the string quartet and adds rhythmic tambourines and wind chimes. ‘Transcendence’ regains the string quartet and voices strident calls, expressions of struggle. Initially I misheard this music for kitsch, instead it is heartfelt, beautiful, unearthly.

Lulled by the beatlessness of the first seventeen minutes, ‘Sivaya’ and its successors surprise by introducing handclaps, percussion and organ grooviness underpinning enchanted vocals from a female singer supported by a ragged choir. These latter songs are listed as “traditional, arranged and adapted by Alice Coltrane”; Alice introduces gospel bluesiness through her organ and Fender Rhodes playing. That said, there is little soloing here, nothing of her work on classics like Journey in Satchidananda or Ptah The El Daoud, nothing of the worrying, tearing-free sounds of Joe Henderson or Pharaoh Sanders. This is music produced in praise of Krishna, devotional music and Alice plays a supporting, predominantly self-effacing role; it is also more pedestrian than what ushered it in. I’ll keep this cd for those first three tracks thanks.
Colin Buttimer
April 2002
Published by the BBC