What an awful front cover was my first reaction after the excitement of happening across the burnt orange and black spine that meant another Impulse recording had crossed my path. Oh well! Let’s check out who was playing on the session with Alice Coltrane, before I re-shelve it, I thought. It was my good fortune that I did, as I discovered that two of my favourite tenor saxophonists were on duty here: Pharoah Sanders, who I was half-expecting anyway and Joe Henderson, who I wasn’t.
I still felt a sense of trepidation as I prepared to listen. How ‘out there’ would it turn out to be? Would it be some sort of strange concept album exploring arcane spiritual myths with music that was near unlistenable.
As things turned out, I needn’t have worried at all. The set is an absolute treat that deserves to be much better known. Essentially, it is Alice Coltrane’s first recording as leader of a quintet featuring horns (although the sleeve notes point out that Pharoah played bass clarinet on A Monastic Trio, AC’s first release following John Coltrane’s untimely passing). It was recorded at the home studio in the Coltrane house at Dix Hills, Long Island, which adds a certain cachet too.
The title track has a remorseless march-like jauntiness about it and it is a most engaging piece of music that benefits from an ever-present sense of motion and direction.
Turiya and Ramakrishna starts with over four minutes of the most beautiful piano playing before Ron Carter takes a restrained bass solo. Alice Coltrane returns with more wonderous piano on this masterpiece of playing. I don’t know exactly what she is doing, but I’ve asked a piano playing colleague to take a listen to see if he can enlighten me. He tells me that the pianist is playing the black keys and the improvisation is centred on Eb Minor, which gives it the delicate and sophisticated bluesy feel (thanks Mark). If you want a treat you can listen on the link below- either touch or click on the arrow to play.
Blue Nile brings the return of Henderson and Sanders who have exchanged their tenor saxophones for alto flutes with which to accompany Alice Coltrane who plays harp.
Finally, Mantra offers a platform for the two tenors. The sleeve notes helpfully identify that Pharoah is to be heard through the right channel, while the left belongs to Joe Henderson. The first solo is Joe’s and he does reference Mode For Joe briefly in it. Pharoah gets plenty of space and plays with great skill and control before introducing some of his special phonic techniques.
The presence of Alice on piano keeps things grounded around an extremely listenable modal centre.
A further surprise was discovering that the original sleeve notes were written by Leonard Feather. If ever a critic had the capacity to wound with razor honed stiletto words, Lennie was that man. You know what though? He enjoyed this set.
So there you have it. downwithit.info loves it and so does Leonard Feather. You might like it too. My pristine CD copy cost me £4.00, which is significantly less than the pint of Meantime Brewery’s Yakima Red that I’ve just enjoyed. There seemed to be lots of copies available on vinyl on eBay last week. Don’t be put off either by the iffy cover or the Arabic title (incidentally, Ptah is an Egyptian god (highly placed in the pantheon, I understand) and ‘the El Daoud’ means the beloved).
This is an unreserved recommendation. Buy this beautiful recording at your first opportunity! Let us know what you think. I doubt if you will be disappointed.
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The band etc: Alice Coltrane (Piano, harp); Pharoah Sanders (tenor saxophone, alto flute, bells. Right channel); Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone, alto flute. Left channel); Ron Carter (bass); Ben Riley (drums). Produced: Ed Michel. Recorded: The Coltrane home studio, Dix Hills, New York. 26 January 1970. Graphic Design: Jason Claibourne. Cover Photography (and occasional bells). Charles Stewart. Released: 1970. Original release: Impulse AS 9196.