Universal Consciousness / Lord Of Lords
Alice Coltrane

The Impulse 2-for-1 series are single-CD amalgamations of two original LPs, one a major achievement of the artist, and the other a more minor release; in Alice Coltrane’s case the eponymous Universal Consciousness of 1971, and, from a year later, Lord of Lords: if Messiaen had been a jazz musician, perhaps this is what his music would have sounded like. This is not jazz for those as like to curl up with some heart-warming Coleman Hawkins, Ella Fitzgerald, or Tord Gustavsen—unless you already have some Sun Ra, or Evan Parker, or for that matter, Xenakis, on your shelf you may well hate this music. I for one love it, regarding it as the authentic expression of the collision of hardcore black jazz and the European avantgarde; perhaps even more so than Miles Davis “difficult” mid-70s albums like Dark Magus and Agharta/Pangaea. Alice Coltrane plays harp in the welter of orchestral sound that constitutes the opening track, and continues mainly on electric organ in music that travels from explosive hyperactivity to a reimagining of her late husband’s Love Supreme soundworld—this music was a big influence on both John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana, in their collaborations on Love, Devotion and Surrender, and Welcome (I also suspect Alice Coltrane’s ‘look’ was an influence on the Mighty Boosh’s Santana parody, "The Priest and the Beast"). Coltrane incorporates a range of non-Western approaches into her soundworld, from tambura drones to, in the Lord of Lords material, the mesmerically repetitive string orchestral sound of popular middle-eastern music; curiously, a strange, naïve, reworking of the opening and finale of Stravinsky’s Firebird provides aural variety, and the closing track, Going Home, unfolds ecstatically from the slow movement of Dvorak’s New World. The Lord of Lords track itself, a huge modal orchestral fresco with intermittent crazed soloing is simply astounding. Vilified when it first appeared by jazz purists for its unorthodoxy (and one suspects for the classical borrowings and notated-out string orchestra), this is certainly not easy music, but it is quintessentially of its time, and for my money, magnificent.

Other artists in the Impulse 2-for-1 series include Art Blakey, Mel Brown, Alice Coltrane, Curtis Fuller, Coleman Hawkins, Milt Jackson, Ahmad Jamal, Elvin Jones, Sonny Rollins, Pharoah Sanders, Shirley Scott, Archie Shepp, Gabor Szabo, and the McCoy Tyner Trio.

Review reprinted with permission of Thomas’ Music.