Today, we’re sharing this beautiful recap article and videos from Grand Performances x dublab’s tribute concert to Alice Coltrane.
As both a groundbreaking musician and spiritual leader, Alice Coltrane’s legacy resounds worldwide. Her imprint on Southern California was particularly influential. Coltrane moved to Los Angeles with her children in 1972 and resided in the area until her passing in 2007. In 1975, she founded the Sai Anantam Ashram and Vedantic Center, nestled in the Santa Monica mountains. From this spiritual center, she created an astonishing body of devotional music that has been embraced by new audiences in recent years.
On August 27, 2022 Grand Performances partnered with dublab to produce An Expansive Spirit, a concert celebrating Alice Coltrane’s 85th birthday. The evening featured large ensembles arranged and led by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and Surya Botofasina playing innovative arrangements of Coltrane’s cosmic classics and new works inspired by her.
As you’ll see from the performance footage, there was a rare energy in the air that evening. We were all attuned to a higher frequency and connection to each other.
Below, we’ve shared four song performances that best exemplified the night.
Early in the evening, we were awestruck at the sheer scale of the orchestral performance, and just how well Alice Coltrane’s music sounded arranged this way. Perhaps the best example was the reinterpretation of the song Prema, off Alice’s 1978 double LP “Transfiguration.”
Originally composed for just the violin and piano, the Miguel Atwood-Ferguson-led Universal Consciousness Orchestra took a much grander approach towards Prema:
A sixteen piece backing strings section
A three piece harp section
… and Surya on piano
Her music, which was already transcendent in nature, felt even richer and more uplifting… her legacy even larger.
Alice Coltrane’s song “Blue Nile” from her critically acclaimed 1970 album “Ptah, the El Daoud” was a groundbreaking moment for jazz fusion. Centering the harp (with some supporting flute) and drawing upon Eastern musical traditions, this was unlike any other jazz song that came before it.
For this particular arrangement, the saxophone becomes the lead instrument instead, and it serves as a wonderful showcase for legendary sax player Azar Lawrence. In the jazz world, Azar needs no introduction. His peers and collaborators included Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw and McCoy Tyner (Azar was Tyner’s saxophonist of choice after his former band member John Coltrane passed away).
Backed by the luscious harmonies of a three harp section (Low Leaf, Nailah Hunter and Radha Botofasina), and the drums of Robert Miller – who added just the right amount of tension with his cymbal crashes – Azar’s tenor saxophone absolutely soared. That evening he built bridges between multiple generations of jazz musicians and fans.
Turiya And Ramakrishna
Surya’s set culminated in the sweeping solo piano performance of “Turiya And Ramakrishna,” also off “Ptah, The El Daoud” (1970).
“Turiya And Ramakrishna” is a remarkable composition in that it features overlapping melodic lines – a listening experience that evokes blissful ocean waves ebbing on a beach. Staying true to the essence of the original, Surya’s dextrous piano play is matched by the flowing dance moves of Ranjani Reyes.
In this moment, Surya, Ranjani, and the entire Grand Performances audience were one, sharing a heightened and unified consciousness. Aside from the piano, you could hear a pin drop from across the plaza.
Surya’s ensemble then kicked up the musical intensity a notch with a drum and horn heavy rendition of “Deva Deva” off Alice’s 1987 LP Divine Songs (Swamini Turiyasangitananda). Originally composed by Alice as a solo piano ballad with devotional Hindu chants, Surya’s new arrangement centers around a driving, swinging rhythm, accompanied by a trio of vocalists, including Alice’s own daughter Michelle.
Whether you’re discovering this performance for the first time or reliving that magical evening back in August, we hope you enjoy not only the musical performance, but also the spiritual legacy that Alice Coltrane left for all of us.
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