These Impulse 2-on-1 releases are great, or at least the Alice Coltrane ones are.
On Huntington Ashram Monastery Ron Carter's bass is sublime, and Rashied Ali controls his kaleidoscopic rhythms sufficiently that the trio bring the music into a wonderful paradoxical diffuse focus, loose and shimmering, but always restrained and together. One of Alice's most harp-heavy recordings, at least on what was the 'first side' of the LP (tracks one to three), with more piano on 'side two' (tracks four to six). Most of side one belongs to the beautifully shimmering side of her repertoire, albeit less focussed than her greatest recordings. I'd give this album on its own four stars, maybe even just three, 'Via Sivanandagar' being an unusual change to of pace in her predominantly calmer repertoire (to hyperspeed!), and 'IHS' taking it bit too far out for my tastes. But it comes back home to planet earth on the final track, in the bluesiness of 'Jaya Jaya Rama'.
The pairing of albums Impulse has chosen is a bit odd: here they combine this 1969 recording, which precedes Ptah The El Daoud, one of my favourite and, I think, amongst her best recordings, and is separated from the other album here, 1972s World Galaxy, by another three recordings as well as Ptah. World Galaxy is an amazing beast: book-ended by tracks indelibly stamped in the jazz mind as signature John Coltrane numbers, she nevertheless succeeds in both making them her own, and celebrating their connectedness to her late husband, in a way that one can't conceive of many people successfully pulling off. Her version of 'A Love Supreme', essentially a drum and organ duet with strings (and a couple of other solos, including a LeRoy Jenkins violin solo that, frankly, I could live without) is, well, astonishing. But she starts with 'My Favourite Things', taking the schmaltzy tune that her husband had already liberated and turned inside out even further from its saccharine origins than he had. Between these two 'Trane standards come three 'Galaxy Around/In...' titles ('Galaxy Around Olodumare', 'Galaxy in Turiya', etc.).
And in line with the latter titles, Alice Coltrane and co., enriched by her unusual and very modern string arrangements (never were strings added, and consonant harmonious strings by and large, to less of a sugar-coated effect) the musicians do indeed reveal whole 'other worlds' of music. Huntington Ashram Monastery is pretty damn good, but by Alice's own high standards it's merely okay, whereas World Galaxy, bonkers and by no means music for all occasions, is truly sublime. So the six stars I would like to give it balance the lesser amount for HAM, leaving the whole package a five star affair, especially at the 'practically giving it away price' I paid (roughly a fiver).