The profound, transcendental music Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda composed at her Sai Anantam Ashram in California has become available to the wider public, with help from NYC-based (and world-music-embracing) label Luaka Bop. Originally, the four cassette tapes recorded in the ’80s and ’90s could only be found at the ashram—one current listing on eBay is asking for at least $300. It’s clear why they’re going at such a high price: the legendary musician, as a spiritual leader, experimented with her own singing, analog synthesizers and a choir of voices to bring into being sacred music that seems to suspend all sense of time. Luaka Bop has remastered some of these devotionals into the compilation, World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda.
“Ecstatic” is an interesting choice of words, as Luaka Bop’s Eric Welles Nyström notes, “I realized how you may be able to expect certain kinds of press, interest or feedback on an album, but you can never imagine what the emotional response will be among people. For me, I think its these emotions that really are special to this project and just how good it is making people feel. You just can’t put a price on that, or take something like that for granted. People have told me they cry when they hear this music, and the fact that it is coming out like this and now, it is making them cry.”
Adds Luaka Bop co-founder Yale Evelev, “As a jazz fan in the 1970s, I saw Alice Coltrane and had many of her records. I vaguely knew that she made private press cassettes but as that was not the jazz stuff I was into, I discounted them.” Skip to 40 years later, after friends prodded him to listen to the tapes in full, he says, “Fully hearing the music Alice invented, a mixture of the gospel she grew up with, jazz, her traveling to India, her entire life and all of what that entails when it comes to her, made me realize what a complete world she had created—and how extraordinary, and beautiful, that is.”
Working with Luaka Bop, Red Bull Music Academy Festival New York closes out its month of shows with a two-part Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda tribute at Knockdown Center in Queens, beginning at sunset. “Growing up on the Ashram was the most wonderful experience I could even try to imagine. My mother and I, along with others in our ashram family moved to Agoura when it opened in 1983,” recalls Surya Botofasina—who is music directing the first part of the Sunday ceremony, which will try to conjure the ashram’s unique atmosphere, along with a seven-member choir from the ashram. He recalls, “I cannot begin to accurately describe her approach, except to say it was completely congruent with her devotion to God,” he says of her playing and experimenting.
“I hope listeners on 21 May leave feeling more positive about the beautiful world we live in,” says Botofasina. “I hope we are able to convey the pure joy this sacred music can invoke. If we can do anything, be a part of anything that promotes more peace and joy, then I feel we will have served the music and people well.” Tickets ($25-40) are close to selling out; so nab them sooner than later. The second part of the evening concert will be led by her son Ravi, on a journey through Alice’s 60-year recording career.
Image courtesy of Sri Hari Moss