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Hear a Devotional Piece by Alice Coltrane, From the New Album 'Kirtan: Turiya Sings'

Alice Coltrane
Frans Schellekens/Redferns
/
Redferns
THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS - 12th JULY: American jazz pianist Alice Coltrane (1937-2007) performs live on stage at the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Hague, the Netherlands on 12th July 1987. (photo by Frans Schellekens/Redferns)

Alice Coltrane had already achieved remarkable things as a recording artist, mainly on Impulse! Records, when she pivoted in the direction of purely devotional music. This was in the early 1980s — a period that saw her establish the Sai Anantam Ashram in the Santa Monica Mountains, and then start making music patterned after Hindu chants, which she'd distribute on cassette to her students and spiritual followers.

On a 2017 episode of The Checkout, harpist Brandee Younger and pianist-composer Courtney Bryan talked about the importance of those recordings on their own musical growth — a perspective shared by a few other notable artists of our time, like Lakecia Benjamin and Georgia Anne Muldrow. Among the touchstones for this cohort is an ashram cassette that Coltrane self-released in 1982, under the title Turiya Sings.

Now, in accordance with its 60th anniversary festivities, Impulse! / UMe is planning to release Kirtan: Turiya Sings — a radically altered new iteration of the album, produced by Alice's son Ravi Coltrane from mixes he discovered while producing her final album, Translinear Light. While the original Turiya Sings had overdubbed synthesizers and strings, Kirtan, due out on July 16, strips the album to its essence: just Coltrane's soulful voice against the hum of a Wurlitzer organ, which she played with a meditative calm.

Alice Coltrane - Krishna Krishna (Visualizer)

Impulse! released one track from the album this morning: "Krishna Krishna," a worshipful hymn whose melody not only alludes to traditional Indian music but also nods in the direction of the Black gospel church.

With its clear, almost tactile focus on Coltrane's singing, this track forms a striking contrast to the original version of the song, which swathed her voice deep within an enveloping synthesizer drone.

Turiya Sings

"As dynamic and bold as the original version is, hearing my mother sing and play in this stripped-down, intimate setting revealed the true heart and soul of these songs," writes Ravi in a producer's note. "In this form, I could hear every nuance and inflection in her vocal performance and feel the weight of her rock-solid pulse and timing and (dare I say it) groove on the Wurlitzer. And, most importantly, in this setting I felt the greatest sense of her passion, devotion, and exaltation in singing these songs in praise of the Supreme."

Kirtan: Turiya Sings arrives four years after World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda — an acclaimed Luaka Bop compilation assembled from Coltrane's ashram recordings. "Music was such a big part of her life," Ravi Coltrane told NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas, for a feature on All Things Considered, "and she found this way to combine it with her spiritual-slash-religious goals. She made this music, essentially, for her students, just to kind of document the songs that they had been using for worship and for part of their ceremonies. And she was at it all the time."

Kirtan: Turiya Sings will be released on Impulse!/UMe on July 16; preorder here.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, Nate Chinen is editorial director at WBGO and a regular contributor to NPR Music.