Alice Coltrane’s debut as leader and harpist

Alice Coltrane – A Monastic Trio (Impulse, 1968)

The first thing that strikes me when I listen to Alice Coltrane’s debut album as a leader is how much it sounds like a continuation of her previous albums with John Coltrane, suggesting her playing colored those albums more than what she has had credit for.

The first track has Pharoah Sanders playing bass clarinet, with bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Ben Riley who had played with Thelonious Monk recently. Had the track been released on John Coltrane’s last studio album Expressions no one had raised an eyebrow.

The rest of the tracks are trio recordings with Jimmy Garrison and drummer Rashied Ali. ”Gospel Trane” is of course named for John Coltrane and it is a minor blues. Alice Coltrane’s style is more elastic and floating than the more romantic and expressive McCoy Tyner. She had studied with Bud Powell and you can hear splashes of his style in her long melodic and sometimes fractured lines in the right hand.

The harp as a jazz instrument

She is an interesting composer as well, many of her themes are beautiful, like the free ballad ”I Want to See You.”

On the second side of the album she switches to the harp which was not established as a jazz instrument. It works very well. She plays clusters of notes which blends nice sonically with Garrison’s deep singing notes and Ali’s drums. If anything, these tracks show that she was more interested in grooves than John Coltrane was the last years of his life.

It is a very charming album and a mature debut as a leader.

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