I was cleaning out my closet when I came upon a carefully folded envelope with a two page letter inside. It was a “goodbye” letter from my mom, given to me a year before she died. I was moving across the country and she wanted to give me some encouragement. In the wake of her death three years ago, it reads with a little more gravity.
I’ll spare you the details of her letter, the hot tears hitting the paper, and the way I crumpled on the floor as I read it. The most important thing is that her words resonate even stronger now. I’m finally at a point in life where I feel confident that I’m a positive force for other people, that I’m self sufficient, and that I’m a decent person. Maybe even a good person.
Transcendence is my favorite Alice Coltrane album. In my humble opinion, it’s one of the greatest jazz albums of all time, by anyone. I’ll try to concisely extol the many virtues of this wonderfully titular-promise-fulfilling album.
“Transcendence is the key that unlocks the indelible mystery of Alice Coltrane’s music. It is the unerring creative mission statement, the irresistible driving force that pushes her soul towards your own.
Reaching the listener emotionally, psychologically and spiritually is an essential part of the endeavor but the act of going beyond conventional forms of communication, of acceding to a higher state of consciousness, is the ultimate raison d’être.”
Since the liner notes in my handy CD reissue lay it out so succinctly, I feel the need only to briefly describe the music itself. Divided into two distinct phases, the album starts off with meandering cloud shimmers of Alice’s effortlessly magical harp. At first nearly traditional sounding, emulating the first rumblings of a symphony, the amorphous harp-centric sound winds through the second, more abstract tune, before gathering into a purposeful rhythm by the ending of the third track. The final echoes softly give way to the low end hum of Coltrane’s sublime organ workout, which drives the rest of the album along a hand-clapping gospel singalong evocation of the various names of the gods.
This western gospel/eastern philosophy mashup feels so comfortably entwined that it comes across like the most natural progression of this idea possible. The sharp tonal divide would stand out more if it weren’t the perfect combination of contrast and duration: the buildup feels like meditation, being lost in thought and nothingness, before a moment of clarity snaps the world into focus. The local cohabitants emerge and reach towards the outer edges of the world as the gods’ names are chanted in the communal practice of Sankirtan, Alice’s favorite sacrifice. It’s an elated ride from introspection to vocal providence; such an enjoyable trip that we’re nigh unaware of the spirituality fueling the journey. Turn this on and let it get you high – or get high before turning it on. Transcendence is all that matters.
[purchase this truly essential album via cd universe or amazon]