Alice Coltrane’s early solo work has made her an icon on par with her husband and collaborator, John — last year, her 1971 LP Journey in Satchidananda earned a spot on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums list. But around 20 years’ worth of her musical output, dating from the time when she devoted herself to Hinduism and founded an ashram in California, still remains obscure. An upcoming release, Kirtan: Turiya Sings, will offer a fresh look at one exemplary album from this period.
Originally released on private-press cassette in 1982 via Coltrane’s ashram, the original Turiya Sings featured the artist’s serene devotional songs, accompanied by her Wurlitzer organ and overdubbed strings and synths. Although she had a robust discography by this point, Coltrane — whose Sanskrit name was Turiya, a shortened version of Turiyasangitananda — had never before sung on one of her albums.
In 2004, three years before Coltrane’s death, her son and musical collaborator Ravi discovered mixes of the album that omitted the overdubs and included only Alice’s voice and organ. “As dynamic and bold as the original version is, hearing my mother sing and play in this stripped-down, intimate setting revealed the true heart and soul of these songs,” Ravi writes in a statement. “In that moment, I knew people needed to hear Turiya Sings in this context.”
Produced by Ravi, the upcoming Kirtan: Turiya Sings fulfills that vision, presenting the full album in its unadorned form.
A preview track, “Krisha Krishna,” conjures a meditative-blues feel that’s reminiscent of Coltrane’s early classics like Journey and Ptah, the El Daoud. The combination of a warm bed of organ and the artist’s gently plaintive vocal gives the feel of a prayer offered up in private. Her Sanskrit lyrics praise Hindu deities (“O Krishna, victory to You,” her lines read in translation. “O Madhusudana, worshipable One/Who is the embodiment/Of divine love …”) and reflect her spiritually attuned mindset at the time.
Kirtan: Turiya Sings arrives four years after a Luaka Bop collection that brought together selections from Alice Coltrane’s ashram years. For Ravi, the upcoming release presents his mother’s fully realized musical vision, drawing on all her experiences up to that point, from playing church organ in her native Detroit to free jazz with John and beyond.
“On this album, your ear will be turned toward the sound of the blues, to gospel, to the Black American church, often combined with the Carnatic singing style of southern India,” Ravi writes. “You will hear beautiful harmonies influenced by Alice’s Detroit/Motown roots, her bebop roots, John Coltrane’s impact, and her absorption of European classical music, particularly that of her favorite: Igor Stravinsky. Yet, at the same time, this is functional music. Its purpose is, with light and love, to praise the names of the Supreme. On this album, your heart and spirit will be turned toward divine inspiration and appreciation.”
Impulse! will release Kirtan: Turiya Sings on July 16th.