ALICE COLTRANE — Universal Consciousness (review)

ALICE COLTRANE — Universal Consciousness album cover Album · 1971 · Avant-Garde Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
Sean Trane
Deep in her spiritual quest and under the influence of some maharishi guru, Alice recorded this UC album in three different sessions that were indeed quite different in terms of who was playing. Despite the full respect I have for Trane’s widow, I was never really able to decipher her lengthy mumbo jumbo on the innerfold of the album, but it’s not really necessary to get a solid whiff of the music on the black disc. If the outerfold artwork shows Alice in a normal state, the pictures inside show her in an influenced transient state, which she will never really leave for the rest of her life.

The first session took place on April 6/71 and consists of two tracks (plus another half), including the opening UC cacophonic and dissonant title track and the calmer “oh allah”, where she plays her Wurlitzer organ with Garrison and DeJohnette and a 4-man violin section (including Leroy Jenkins) and the help of Ornette for the arrangement scores.

The second session happened mid-May and featured Garrison, DeJohnette, Jarvis and Tulsi on tamboura. But the opening Hare Krishna track received some string arrangement treatment from the quartet mentioned above at a different date, while Sita Ram (a trad Indian piece) remained as such. Needless to say that Tulsi’s sitar/tamboura playing adds an undeniable Indian feel that permeates every second of the two compositions.

The third session occurred mid-June and was probably held to fill the rest of the album, and produced two tracks, one aside. It’s mainly Alice on her Wurlitzer and Rashied on drums, and if Armageddon has got a cosmic feel, Ankh is breathes serenity due to the added harp playing in the intro. Now it doesn’t really feel like filler material, but it’s certainly hors de propos sonically-speaking from the rest of the album. Definitely not her easier album to get into, but also not her most inaccessible, UC is probably not a fitting intro into Alice’s musical world, but it can be investigated in a second wave.
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