Journey in Satchidananda

I hadn’t listened to Alice Coltrane’s 1970 album “Journey in Satchidananda” (Impulse!) until this weekend. It’s a truly amazing record, one I keep playing over & over, especially good to listen to while writing or editing. In the liner notes, Coltrane mentions how it was recorded in two different sessions in 1970, one at The Village Gate club in NYC (July 4th) and another at her studio in Dix Hills, NY (November 8th). She travelled to India within days of completing the recording. Pharoah Sander’s playing as the album begins is magnificent, powerful yet attuned to the quietness that pervades the entire record. I also love Cecil McBee and Charlie Haden’s bass playing. The entire group Coltrane gathered around her for these sessions helps make the album so special. She conceived the record as something that would help the listener, as she writes:

“Anyone listening to this selection should try to envision himself floating on an ocean of Satchidananda’s love, which is literally carrying countless devotees across the vicissitudes and stormy blasts to the other shore. Satchidananda means knowledge, existence, bliss.”

This album’s also special to me because of the gratitude I feel toward Swami Satchidananda, what little I recall of being around him as a child in Boston. My father took the above photograph, somewhere in Massachusetts or maybe upstate New York. I can’t tell if that's me at the bottom of the photo, or another child. The date on the photo makes me think it’s not me, since I would have been nearly three at the time, and the child in the photo looks slightly older. When I’ve asked my father about the picture he doesn’t remember taking it, though he does recall many visits with Satchidananda. For me it’s part of a strange era I remember in fragments, from approximately 1973 to 1976, before we moved to Venezuela.

Coltrane’s LP brings to mind everything I feel I’ve learned (and continue to learn) from Satchidananda, particularly the notion of peace as an actual and possible state of being. I don’t think this faith makes me any less pessimistic or disillusioned, unfortunately. But it does reiterate why certain utopian ideals have always been a part of my thinking, as far back as I can remember.

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