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Let It Be 

Alice Coltrane and Carl Stone

Wednesday, Feb 15 2006
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Let It Be

People used to get pissed at Alice Coltrane. Perceived as the proto-Yoko who wrecked John Coltrane’s classic quartet, she arrived in the mid-’60s as Trane’s spouse and keyswoman, and pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones hit the road. Coltrane offered some of his most formless explosions and also his most peaceful meditations with Alice before his 1967 death, and history’s verdict can only be that her gentle, limitless arpeggios and her personal spirituality were exactly what he needed. She didn’t help her rep by recording strings over her deceased husband’s studio tracks, though some of what she came up with (a re-imagining of “Leo” for instance) was doomy, wild and incredibly powerful. Later appearances on public-access TV, noodling on a keyboard while delivering mystic utterances related to her Vedantic faith, reinforced the image of a kook.

But in late 2004, Alice Coltrane beamed forth Translinear Light, her first public release in a quarter century. Its timeless flow was much what you’d expect, with old friend Charlie Haden guesting on bass and son Ravi Coltrane playing sax with familial soulfulness. It arrived at a time when listeners were weary of irony, ready for grace.

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Those not ready for peace, love and inspiration should avoid this weekend’s concert. Not only has Alice secured as opener the very appropriate and thoroughly transcendent ensemble of vocalist Dwight Trible, but she’s assembled a band of angels: Ravi with drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts and the rarely seen Reggie “Ohmygod” Workman, who served as John Coltrane’s most challenging bassist during the Eric Dolphy–charged year of 1961. History, and much more.

Alice Coltrane plays UCLA’s Royce Hall on Saturday, February 18.

Cold Comet to Infinity

Carl Stone can be a show-biz cowboy, sorta. I might not have known that; might have just continued to admire him for his work as an electronic composer from his ’70s days at CalArts onward, wherein new sounds, new concepts and mind-altering audiospatial arrangements were the thing. Audiences — who needs ’em?

Then, a few years back, Stone sent me an unreleased CD of his live stuff. And: yow. Hip-hoppy beat-slog with layered trumpet loops. Loony-tuney electronic dub. Tumbling stainless-steel rhythm compression/expansion. And a single sampled Miles Davis horn tone stretched like a cold comet into infinity. The music was always moving, in both senses — the restless stereo an essential hunk of the sound. This was electronic excitement.

Stone says that, since moving to Tokyo four-plus years ago, he’s been working with improvisers more. And the Asian listenership suits him: “Japanese fans, whether it’s music or sci-fi or manga or ramen, like to go deep.” Here he’s partnering with Nels Cline, a guitarist with a similar talent for electronic thrills whose expostulations he’ll integrate via his samplers.

Asked how he prepares himself for a performance these days, Stone replies with one word: “Coffee.” Dude. And I bet he stirs it with a rusty railroad spike.?

Carl Stone and Nels Cline play CryptoNight at Club Tropical on Thursday, February 23.

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