December 2, 2008


Sach O’s Chakras’ are on a hundred, thousand. Trillion.

It’s a testament to the artistry of Alice Coltrane’s Universal Consciousness that you can follow it up with her great-grand-nephew Flying Lotus’ experimental Hip-Hop album Los Angeles and forget which record was released just a few months ago. No, there aren’t any glitchy beats or dub bass, and the whole thing isn’t drenched in static; but Coltrane’s 37 year old masterwork sounds just as fresh and modern as any new recording, with ideas and techniques still being rediscovered by today’s experimental artists.

Released in the aftermath of Miles Davis’ 1971 triumph, Bitches Brew, Universal Consciousness looks outside the jazz world for inspiration but isn’t a typical 70’s fusion record either. Drawing on the drones of traditional Indian music rather than the bombast of 70’s guitar-Gods, Universal Consciousness projects a deep spirituality and next level musicianship that has been the goal of followers like the Soulquarians ever since. Things start off traditionally (well, relatively) with the title track and “Battle at Armageddon” delivering the kind of noisy virtuoso jazz workouts that might freak out newcomers. While excellent examples of the genre, these tracks are just appetizers for what’s to come. Things really pick up on “Oh Allah” which melds jazz drumming and soloing with an incredible string section and laid back atmosphere: equal parts weed session and acid freakout. Still, the B-Side wins again and it’s the record’s later moments that truly shine.

With titles like “Hare Krishna” and “Sita Ram”, you know we’re not in Kansas anymore. Coltrane finds inspiration in the slow drones and echoing repetition of Indian classical music but forgoes obvious clichés such as Sitar solos, drawing on her superb harp and organ playing instead. A fervent devotee of Eastern spirituality, Coltrane’s interest in Indian music was more than skin deep and she deftly highlights the music’s strengths for an outside audience without ever pandering. While achieved with comparatively little amplification, the results foreshadow the epic droning waves produced by Shoegaze astronauts The Spacemen 3 and ambient snoozers Boards of Canada with disorienting free soloing and a solid jazz rhythm section keeping things moving rather than anchored. “Gorgeous” is an adjective used for all too many sleepy records, as anything slow, moving, and tonal tends to bring out dream-like emotions in listeners–but this is the real deal: the sound may be epic but the arrangements are complex, precise and adventurous, pushing the boundaries of music forward. By the time you hit “The Ankh of Amen Ra”, the combination of avant-guard musicianship and spiritual ambience hits its peak, compelling you to play the record again. Suffice to say, this is good music.

Oh, and since I mentioned it, pick up FlyLo’s record too. If I made a Top 10 list for the year, that’d be on it.

MP3: Alice Coltrane-“Hare Krishna” (Left-Click)
MP3: Alice Coltrane-“Sita Ram”

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