Songs of Faith and Devotion

Alice Coltrane's legacy boldly mingles the spiritual with the musical

Instead we see her legacy not in current jazz—even free jazz—but in the freak-folk underground, which is why you're more likely to see Alice's albums in Other Music than at the Blue Note. The nü-natural mannerisms of Devendra Banhart, (ornate harpist!) Joanna Newsom, repsychled rockers Comets on Fire, and urban primitivists Aa and Sunburned Hand of the Man all draw from Alice's outsider abstractions.

Not to suggest she's a fail-safe hipper-than-thou influence—just as John Fahey inspired a lot of Windham Hill coke-folk, so did Alice suffer with a new-age (and worse: acid-jazz) connotation for a period. Many artists now use tribal spirituality as a mask for boorish decadence. Spiritual isn't a sonic category, nor necessarily a positive. Wasn't Charles Manson a spiritual musician? The Jonestown cult released an album. L. Ron Hubbard's keyboard stylings are available on CD. But a personal cosmology is a deep well to draw on, even if it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Ravi Coltrane, aiding in his mother's Ascension
photo: Willie Davis/Veras
Ravi Coltrane, aiding in his mother's Ascension

"When you're young and presented with these ideals by your mother, you think, 'Man, I just want to ride my bike around,' " Ravi recalls. "Sacrifice and devotion: These things are hard to grasp." They are. But some did. There will be at least one more Alice Coltrane album released: one of devotional music.

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