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Portland Jazz Festival: A Celebration of ECM

Alice Coltrane
Alice Coltrane (photo: Jeff Dunas)

When the curtain came up at magnificent Prudential Hall in the new NJPAC facility in Newark, there was a collective gasp at the sight of a dozen or more empty chairs stage left and a bevy of microphones set up stage right. Clearly, this was to be much more than had been advertised-the Alice Coltrane Quartet in concert. But the surprise wouldn’t be revealed until after intermission.

During the first half of this rare event-the first time in 20 years that the spiritual-seeking Alice (aka Swamini) had emerged from her ashram in Agoura Hills, Calif. to lead her own group-she did indeed perform with a quartet that included Jack DeJohnette on drums, Drew Gress on bass filling in for an ailing Charlie Haden and her son Ravi on tenor and soprano saxophones. The second half of the concert featured the world premiere of material from her upcoming CD Sacred Language of Ascension, a project done in collaboration with Dr. J.J. Hurtak, a worldwide lecturer and expert in Hebrew mysticism. For this ambitious undertaking, the quartet was augmented by 18 string players from around the New York area and a 16-voice choir imported for this special occasion from Alice’s ashram. The impact of the expanded ensemble, when combined with a video presentation on a large screen that hovered overhead, was profoundly soul stirring.

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