Back in the early ’90s, when Alice Coltrane was refraining from performing in rooms where liquor was consumed, I saw her sit in for two or three numbers with her son Ravi’s quartet at the old Iridium. It was Ravi’s birthday and the rhythm section wasn’t clicking, so Alice did what you’d like to think any mom would. Choosing motherly love over moral principle, she sat down at the piano and voiced a few chastening chords, and everything fell beautifully into place. Now Ravi’s fulfilled his filial obligations by producing his mother’s first new release in over 30 years, and several of her piano solos here are as graceful and driven as the ones she took that night a decade ago, when I remember thinking that her husband’s last band, with him and Pharoah Sanders orbiting the planets, might not have been an ideal setting for her reflective take on hard bop.
Any CD lasting 76 minutes is bound to be a grab bag, but along with the stuff you’d expect from her, both good (a thrashing Coltrane trilogy and a somber duet with Charlie Haden) and bad (soupy Wurlitzer and a silly attempt to syncretize Hindu chant and African American call-and-response), Translinear Light also includes plenty of surprises, the most thrilling of which is the way Alice’s synthesizer summons up both strings and the cosmos behind Ravi’s rippling tenor on “Jagadishwar”—lovely. On the aforementionedtrilogy—”Blue Nile,” “Crescent,” and “Leo”—Ravi honors his father by proving himself his own man, and brother and fellow saxophonist Oran benefits greatly from his mother’s guiding hand on “The Hymn.” A grab bag, sure, but worth reaching into.