Spiritual jazz is music that tries to invoke ecstatic, higher states of consciousness, whether it accesses them through religion or spirituality or in the music itself. People like John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders got to these deep meditative states and higher realms by improvising within the structures they imposed on themselves. I find that all the deepest improvised music does that same thing. The higher states of improvising are themselves a higher state of consciousness. These people were looking for something more.
Thembi (Impulse!, 1971)
This was the first track from this genre that I heard and was inspired by. The whole record, Thembi, was a game-changer for me. It was one of the first electric-jazz records I heard. Free jazz was living right next to these groove feels. To me, that was a complete notion of what an improvised-music record could be. The prominent percussion, along with the meditative calm of this piece, transports the listener to a path toward a higher state of consciousness.