In 2004, Alice Coltrane released her first new recording in 26 years, Translinear Light. Produced by her son Ravi, she succeeded in conjuring up the mystical spirits that evoked a series of compelling and hypnotic albums she made for the Impulse! label following the death of her husband John Coltrane in July 1967 such as Journey in Satchidananda, Ptah the El Daoud and Universal Consciousness. Dedicated to mediative and spiritual concerns inspired by the Indian subcontinent, these albums are now regarded key albums in the Spiritual Jazz movement of the 1970s.
Spiritual Jazz — sometimes called Astral jazz — was largely ignored by critics at the time, or treated rather disparagingly by the jazz press. It began to resurface in the 1990s as a new generation of jazz collectors discovered it along with the US hiphop producers looking for breaks and samples. In more recent times previously under-the-radar Kamasi Washington’s The Epic paid homage to an era of jazz that had previously been overlooked to considerable success and acclaim.
Of course, all this was in the future when I spoke to Alice Coltrane in 2004. Although she had withdrawn from active performing and recordings in the late 1970s — her final recordings were for Warner Bros. — to open an ashram in Agoura, Calif., Translinear Light revealed the spirituality of her post-Coltrane recordings remained very much intact. On it she balanced the past (“Sita Ram,” and “Blue Nile”) with new works (“The Hymn” and “Triloka” and the title track), traditional Indian numbers (“Jagadishwar,”) Hindu chants (“Satya Sai Isha”) and hymnal standards (“Walk With Me” and “This Train”).
Despite the cosmic and religious direction she had followed since the 1970s, it was clear during our conversation she had kept up with developments in jazz during her long furlough away from the music. We began by talking about when she had she sat in with her son Ravi’s quartet at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan in 2002 and the line of well wishers that greeted her “return” after the concert.