\\ These albums are an introduction to Spiritual Jazz

In July 2017 we’re highlighting the fifty year anniversary of John Coltrane’s passing by exploring Spiritual Jazz throughout the month. Gail Tasker selects a few albums that make for a perfect introduction to Spiritual Jazz. 

John Coltrane \\ A Love Supreme (1965)

Some would argue that A Love Supreme was the arrival of Spiritual Jazz. Its legacy stretches across the last forty years of jazz. The album is split into four distinct sections which encapsulate the stages of John Coltrane’s spiritual journey; Acknowledgement, Resolution, Pursuance, and Psalm. Elvin Jones’ free-flowing drum rhythms and Jimmy Garrison’s bass riffs support McCoy Tyner’s soaring modal progressions on piano, creating a highly dynamic combination. Over the top, Coltrane pushed out line after melodic line of improvisation. As a listener one is transported alongside him on his spiritual quest. Recorded in a single session at a studio in New Jersey, you can distinctly feel the symbiosis between the four band members.  

Feature \\ Read Spiritual Jazz is Supremely Alive


Dorothy Ashby \\ Afro Harping (1968)

Recorded and released in 1968, this album is a perfect representation of the limitless possibilities of the jazz genre. The album is niche in its instrumentation even beyond the presence of a harp as lead instrument, featuring a string arrangements as well as jazz flute and even piccolo at some moments. Dorothy Ashby is even more exploratory and boundary-breaking on her harp and showcases some memorable technical adeptness in her improvisations as well as a sweet melodic sensitivity. The track list features a diverse set of pieces, with classic tunes such as Little Sunflower and The Look of Love as well as Ashby originals.


Pharoah Sanders \\ Karma (1969)

Released like many other like-minded albums of the time on Impulse! Records, Karma is a two-track masterpiece recorded by tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders alongside an eclectic host of other musicians. The varied instrumentation includes the likes of James Spaulding on flute and Julius Watkins on french horn, joined by Lonnie Liston Smith on keys, leading yet again to a uniquely exotic textural sound. The first piece, The Creator Has A Master Plan, is more than thirty minutes long and is underscored by a slow-moving simple chord progression which yet manages to maintain a groove throughout. At different stages, improvisational saxophone is swapped out with low, looping chants sung by Leon Thomas. Sanders was to record the famous spiritual jazz classic Journey in Satchidananda a year later on the same label with Alice Coltrane.


Journey in Satchidananda \\ Alice Coltrane (1971)

Contemporary critics were not impressed by this album, but Journey in Satchidananda marked Alice Coltrane’s pioneering effort to continue her husband’s legacy. With Alice on harp and Pharoah Sanders on soprano saxophone, the album presents drones and modal chord progressions with a lightness of touch. The rhythm section is decidedly Eastern-minded, accented by bells and a tamboura. The title track— often covered— is something to behold when listening to the textural interplay of Sanders’ soprano with the harp.


Prepare Thyself to Deal with a Miracle \\ Rahsaan Roland Kirk (1973)

This album showcases the highest degree of Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s multi-instrumental musical experimentation, featuring the bandleader on tenor saxophone, clarinet and flute, as well as the intriguing nose flute. The spiritual inspiration is clear before you’ve even begun to listen, with track titles providing some context; note Salvation & Reminiscing and Celestial Blues. Lustrous drones — like those of Middle-Eastern musicians — are noticed in Kirk’s multi-phonic method of playing three instruments at once. Listen out for the final track, a 21 minute long Saxophone Concerto.


Fletcher Moss Park \\ Matthew Halsall (2012)

This album is decidedly spiritual. The overall soundscape is one of peaceful bliss, with Matthew Halsall’s poignant melodic utterings on trumpet underpinned by Rachael Gladwin on harp and sparse piano comping by Adam Fairhall. Solos are thoughtful and restrained, contrasting with moments of ecstatic chord progressions on tracks like Cherry Blossom. Textures also vary, with occasional string arrangements appearing on Sailing out to Sea and Wee Lan, and a bansuri flute solo forming the centrepiece of The Sun in September.  


The Epic \\ Kamasi Washington (2015)

A versatile performer, Kamasi Washington flew into the mainstream with his performance on Kendrick Lamar’s hip hop crossover To Pimp A Butterfly. The title of Washington’s own album The Epic encapsulates his long-awaited but highly masterful contribution to the LA jazz scene. Released in 2015, it brought spiritual jazz back into the world’s focus once again. One can hear echoes of John Coltrane in Washington’s improvisational logic on tenor, and he achieves distinctive textures with his use of a full choir on tracks like Change of the Guard.


Spiritual Jazz 7: Islam — Various Artists. Kudos Records (2017)

Released in March of 2017, this album is the most recent continuation of a musical series dedicated to Spiritual Jazz. Previous releases focus on themes such as ‘Vocals’ and ‘World’, whilst this album hones in on a key trope within the genre — Islam. Curated by the label Jazz Man, the idea is that it showcases the fusion of Islamic music and religion with the ideals of the spiritual-minded African-American liberation movement. Featured artists include flautist and saxophonist Yusef Lateef and the Sudanese double-bassist and oud player Ahmed Abdul-Malik, as well as the more obscure Ritual Trio and the avant-garde Creative Arts Ensemble.

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JS | Gail Tasker 

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