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Listening to Alice Coltrane's Spiritual Recordings, With Two Musical Inheritors

Sri Hari Moss
Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda at the Sai Anantam Ashram in Agoura Hills, California.

For those who know harpist and keyboardist Alice Coltrane as a recording artist, notably in a series of albums on the Impulse! label, there's a stretch from the late-1970s to the mid-2000s that might reasonably be described as a hiatus. But this period was joyously full of music — a fact known to her followers but only recently shared with the public in sanctioned form.


World Spiritual Classics: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda is a new compilation of recordings that Coltrane made at the Sai Anantam Ashram in California, where she served as swamini, or spiritual leader. The album, which has met with an outpouring of enthusiasm, is a collection of devotional songs, steeped in Hindu traditions but also rooted in the inflections of jazz and the gospel church. Among other revelations, the collection features a congregational reworking of Coltrane's theme "Journey in Satchidinanda" and several examples of her singing, in a deep and soulful voice. 

Brandee Younger is a harpist who has been anointed in this lineage: saxophonist Ravi Coltrane handpicked her to perform at his mother's memorial service in 2007. It was at that service that Younger began to realize the scope of Alice Coltrane's devotional music, which she subsequently sought out in a visit to the ashram.

Pianist and composer Courtney Bryan also spent some time at the ashram, in a scholarly immersion that also resonated in personal and spiritual ways. Bryan, now an associate professor of music at Tulane University, has made a close study of Coltrane's spiritual music; she has also performed it on occasion, sometimes in collaboration with Younger.

Credit Corey Goldberg
Brandee Younger and Courtney Bryan at WBGO

Bryan and Younger will pay musical tribute to Alice Coltrane in a concert on Sunday night at the Knockdown Center in Queens, the closing event in this year's Red Bull Music Academy Festival New York. (Ravi Coltrane will also perform, alongside bassist Reggie Workman, drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts and pianist David Virelles, among others.) In this podcast episode of The Checkout, Bryan and Younger speak about the new release, reflect on Coltrane's musical and spiritual journey, and assess her deep influence on their own music.

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher.

Segment Produced by Simon Rentner with assistance from Molly Fichter.

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A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.