“Follow Your Bliss” . . : From the N.Y. Times to Jazz Harp to Alice Coltrane

It all started with a article in the N.Y. Times, reviewing the album by a young jazz harp player, Brandee Younger. Jazz harp players are not exactly what you would call a dime a dozen. The only one I was really aware of before now was Alice Coltrane (1937 – 2007) who was liberally name checked in the article.
For better or worse, Alice Coltrane will be known primarily for being the second wife of Jazz legend John Coltrane. She also played piano in his group from January, 1966 to John’s death in July, 1967. I am not a fan of later period “free jazz” Coltrane. To my taste, it’s too screechy and too solemn by half. As a result of this guilt by association, I never really bothered to check out the records she made as a leader. I was aware from seeing the occasional review that her music (which was always linked to her spiritual beliefs) was moving towards new age mediation. Again, not something that motivated me to seek out her stuff but the Times article piqued my curiosity so I began checking out the YouTube videos.

I started off with the aforementioned Ms Younger. The most interesting one was something done for NPR (is it just me or do you think it ironic to go to National Public Radio for videos) which was filmed at the Evolution Store in New York. A duet of harp and acoustic bass, nice groove (kudos to the bassist Dezron Douglas). While listening to this I found myself not listening to it as “jazz harp” but as just music. When listening to jazz (or rock or blues for that matter) that features an novel instrument, there is a tendency to fixate on the fact that it’s a strange instrument playing such a music. A test for the music is if you forget that it’s a harp playing jazz (or a flute in a rock band or pedal steel playing blues). This definitely passes the test.

Brandee Younger: NPR Music Field Recordings

Among some of Brandee Younger’s videos were her covering Alice Coltrane’s Blue Nile. Wanting to go to the source, I discovered a gem of an album, “Ptah, The El Daoud”, released in 1970. Featuring Ben Riley on drums, Ron Carter on bass, Alice Coltrane on piano and harp and a formidable double front line of saxophonists/flutists Pharaoh Sanders and Joe Henderson, this record is a great example of type of acoustic modal jazz you would hear in the early 70’s. Very mid period Coltrane sounding (which is to be expected) but with a melodic side that won’t prompt your significant other to ask if you could listen to the stuff on headphones.

Alice Coltrane – Blue Nile

For me, the absolute high point of the record is the cut below, “Turiya And Ramakrishna”. Omitting the horns and featuring Alice Coltrane on piano, this has been on my daily “must listen to” list since I heard it. This is moody, soulful, bluesy jazz piano trio playing at it’s best (IMHO). This song is perfect for the imaginary film noir soundtrack that is my life (or at least how I would direct it). So cool! 

Alice Coltrane – Turiya And Ramakrishna

 It started with an article in the Times and led to the discovery of a great jazz album from the past and one tune in particular that moves me every time I hear it. Follow your bliss.

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Posted in Jazz, Music Appreciation and Analysis

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