ALICE COLTRANE — Ptah, the El Daoud (review)

ALICE COLTRANE — Ptah, the El Daoud album cover Album · 1970 · Avant-Garde Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Sean Trane
Third album from Alice’s wonderful world of musical marvels (I’m tempted to say Alice’s musical adventures in Wonderland), Ptah is certainly one of her major achievements and probably her least instantly-recognisable work from the 70’s discography. Behind the tremendous Egyptian mythology artwork and title, Ptah is Alice’s most sombre but also more fascinating moment, as she explores the double horn territory (nothing evil here, though) and goes a step further in her Trane-world endeavours.

With the twin-sax attack (Pharoah on the right and Henderson on the left channel), the 14-mins epic title track is the first time Alice returns to horns since the A-side of her debut Monastic Trio, and it is quite an outstanding return. Both Trane‘s “usual suspects” use their twin horns to form a sometimes enthralling but also broody mood It’s quite fascinating comparing the two horn-blowers over Alice’s chords and Carter’s pedestrian bass. Despite its Indian mythology title, the Turiya track (this would become her own Hindu name) is a superb bluesy piano-led piece and doesn’t present any ethnic influences and Carter’s bass is awesome.

On the flipside, with Blue Nile enters Alice’s harp and the two saxes leave the way to two excellent flutes (keeping their respective channels) that give an excellent soundscape-depth to the album and Carter’s bass almost steals the show. The 16-mins+ Mantra track closes the album as the title track had opened it, with the twin horns drawing circles around the whole quintet, but never over-powering anyone, especially Alice’s haunting choppy piano (some would say clunky, but I’d find that insulting for Alice or McCoy) midway though the track. The song seems to slowly fade-out (it does) by its halfway-distance but it slowly climbs back up the ladder with some dual exciting but tense sax interventions.

Well Ptah is quite easily my fave Alice album, quite ahead of Satchi, but both are quite different that it’s actually difficult to pit them against each other. In some ways, I find it a little sad that she didn’t pursue at least one more album in the Ptah mould, but it’s certainly to her credit that she didn’t want top repeat herself. An awesome album, even if rather far away from her usual positivism, but its depth is simply astounding.
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