Translinear Light (2004)
Review by John Fraim
Where is John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane and McCoy Tyner when the world needs them so much? Trane left us in 1967 and Alice Coltrane forty years later in 2007. McCoy left us on March 6, 2020 … just before the pandemic struck the nation. It would have been interesting to hear how McCoy interpreted the pandemic in the last few months.
Not Tyner in the later years of his life but rather Tyner as the fiery, young, musician of the 70s working with Orrin Keepnews at the Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California. It was the work of the great apprentice of John Coltrane, carrying the Trane message into the future. Tyner’s greatest work was in the 70s both as a leader and composer. He shows his brilliance as a composer on a number of albums from this period. But my introduction to Tyner was coincidentally (synchronicity working here?) to what I feel is the masterwork of his career: the 1977 album Inner Voices.
I was living in San Francisco and working for one of the largest corporations in the world after graduating from law school in LA. It was a big change for a native of LA to want to move to San Francisco. But my first wife was persistent, and our first place was right on Mountain Lake Park in the Inner Richmond, a few blocks from the bustling Clement Street. I rode the bus downtown each day from our flat in the Richmond District to the offices of the big corporation on Market Street. It was not a pleasant time for me. I knew I did not fit into the corporate world. It was the world of entrepreneurship for me. Somewhat forced into it but on the other hand following closely in my granddfather’s footsteps.
The Brilliant Inner Voices
This is when I came upon one of the greatest lights in my life at this time called Inner Voices and the amazing musician McCoy Tyner. The discover was in 1977 and in the next few years I had started a publication in the Bay Area called the Jazz Newsletter. The music of Inner Voices set me on a discovery of the rest of the music of Tyner and then backwards to discover the music of John Coltrane. In 1980, I wrote a biography on John Coltrane titled Spirit Catcher. I continued to follow McCoy and check in on his albums. But he seemed to be relaxing during this period of his life. There were more reflective ballads, more past memories in his music rather than future hopes, like his music of the 70s.
But Alice Coltrane’s later life seemed to take on a different trajectory from McCoy’s later life. While McCoy seemed content in his music, not worried that he had not already expressed what he was going to express, the creative spark simmering rather than igniting, Alice seemed to constantly push forward in her spiritual commitment and power.
Alice Coltrane (McLeod, August 27, 1937 – January 12, 2007), also known by her adopted Sanskrit name Turiyasangitananda or Turiya Alice Coltrane. In her later years she was a swami or yoga. swamini/ One of the few harpists in the history of jazz, she recorded many albums as a bandleader, beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s for Impulse! and other major record labels. She performed with her husband John Coltrane during the last few years of his life in 1966-67.
Alice & John Coltrane
She lived in the hills fifty miles north of Los Angeles. It was a large ranch in the hills of Thousand Oaks. Translinear Light was her first studio album in two decades. Produced by her son Ravi Coltrane, the 2004 abum is the final album of her career. In addition to her son Ravi, her son Oran also plays on the record. In addition to original compositions by Coltrane, it includes two compositions by John Coltrane and four covers of traditional works.
The above music is from the fourth track of Translinear Light titled “Jagadishwar.” I used this music as the background to a tribute video piece I created for the memorial service of a close older friend of mine. It seemed the only music appropriate to elegant, grand life. It seems a spiritual, peaceful music. The entire album is filled with breath-taking creativity and power. There is no question that Alice was at the top of her game in her later years.
I wish Alice was here today to perhaps play what all of this sounds like to her beautiful, spiritual mind. If she had lived, what type of music might she have produced about this pandemic? Or would she be out of touch? Her music shared only with a close inner group. One could learn much through searching her name on the net.
Alice Coltrane’s Sai Anantam Ashram in the Santa Monica Mountains
(Destroyed by the Woolsey fire in 2018)
Anyway, listen to the powerful piece “Jagadishwar” from Alice Coltrane’s great, milestone album, Translinear Light. It was a powerful piece to me around a hectic summer of 2009. That summer, the Tea Party protests erupted throughout the United States. The protests were part of the larger political climate and divide that I saw beginning to take some shape. It was a year into the presidency of the first African American. Many in the nation were not happy with what was going on in Washington DC.
Now, the summer of 2020 pushes forward towards the November election.
The protestors hang on in Portland and Seattle and other selected spots around the nation. The Republican Convention has been cancelled. I get email one minute scolding me for not donating to the party and then email congratulating me for being such a loyal supporter of the party. Is this another verion of the dectective interrogation technique known as Good guy and Bad guy?
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In the insanity of our present moment in time, I can’t help but wonder what Alice Coltrane might have responded with her music. The grand Mistress of Spiritual Jazz. There has been no other like her. Some day, she will recieve the attention her powerful spiritual jazz deserves. In all ways, Alice was always the key messenger of the message of John Coltrane. Not necessarily a continuation of his music but his entire message to the world.
Google the words “spiritual jazz” and see what you might come up with. I haven’t done this yet. I really don’t need to. Three years before her death in 2007, Alice creates the capstone of her career in Translinear Light. It is one of the most powerful expressions of spiritual jazz ever created. It must have been such a joy for her to have her son Ravi such an important part of this brilliant project. An achievement for all her children and relatives should be so proud of. If she was only around today. And, if only more of the world listened to her message in her music.
Alice Coltrane in the later years of her life / Elegance and Wisdom.
Alice Cotrane in the earlier years of her life / Passion and Commitment
See an excellent article on Alice Coltrane “The Agony and Ecstacy of Alice Coltrane” from Dazed.