Coming together in an unlikely but harmonious collaboration under their recently bestowed Sanskrit names, Turiya Alice Coltrane and Devadip Carlos Santana recorded Illuminations as a reflection of their newfound spiritual awakening. Released in 1974, the album embodies a deliberate shift for both artists, who had edged closer to explicitly devotional compositions throughout the early seventies—Coltrane with her untouchable run of visionary albums for Impulse!, Santana with the mystic jazz-funk of Caravanserai and Welcome.
A sweeping metaphysical suite unfolds with lotus-like grace. Illuminations opens with a heady blush of strings over an ostinato bassline, while unmistakable rays of guitar stream through the haze like beams of seraphic light. Despite his instantly recognizable tone and reputation for wailing, Santana’s playing is minimal and humble, stripped to its melodic core. Here, he sets a new benchmark for electric guitar in a spiritual jazz context, while also providing the soaring counterpoint to Alice Coltrane’s lush orchestrations. Though a steady undercurrent of her trademark harp and piano ripples throughout the album, Coltrane’s string arrangements define the vibe of the session, shimmering with sheer cosmic aura.
Though most of Illuminations is imbued with bliss and serenity, “Angel of Sunlight” finds Coltrane and Santana locked in a turbulent third-eye-opening workout, propelled by ex-Miles Davis rhythm devils Jack Dejohnette and Dave Holland. While Santana ascends to ever-higher reaches of the fretboard, Coltrane lets fly on the Wurlitzer organ, throwing off sparks with enough spiritual fire to light the flame eternal. But tumult gives way to peace. And that’s the push and pull that focuses the spiritual energy of Illuminations, transmitting enlightenment through sound. | j annis