Alice Coltrane: Ptah, The El Daoud (1970) Impulse

Warning! LJC hits rock-bottom with an “unlicensed copy” from digital sources.  Exceptional circumstances, it’s a Vinyl Emergency. 

Selection 1 – the opening: Ptah, The El Daoud (Alice Coltrane)

.  .   .

Selection 2 – the close: Mantra (Alice Coltrane)

.  .  .

Tracklist

A1 Ptah, The El Daoud 13:58
A2 Turiya & Ramakrishna 8:19
B1 Blue Nile 6:58
B2 Mantra 16:33

Egyptology Class, ptah attention!  Who’s Ptah? The ancient Egyptian god of creation, usually depicted as a man with green skin, holding an ornamented staff, symbolic of sovereignty. El Daoud apparently means “the beloved”. With mysticism, things have to have to be mysterious, it’s part of the attraction. 

Artists

Joe Henderson, tenor sax, alto flute; Pharoah Sanders, tenor sax, alto flute, bells; Alice Coltrane, piano, harp; Ron Carter, bass; Ben Riley, drums; Chuck Stewart, photographer, occasional bells; produced by Ed Michel, design by The Institute For Better Vision (love that name, but little else of substance ); recorded at The Studio, Coltrane Home, Dix Hills, Long Island, January 26, 1970, engineering credits Wallace Barneke – W.L. Barneke – sound engineer of whom little else is known, also credited on another Alice Coltrane title.

Coltrane Home, Dix Hills, Long Island, 1964-73

Alice recorded half a dozen titles for Impulse, before moving to Warner Bros, and later concentrated on spiritual guidance matters.  Ptah The El Daoud stands out, with I think the best Impulse cover, and remarkably for a spiritual jazz album, made Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time (entry 446)

Music

All Music tribute:

“Alice was  a strong composer and performer in her own right, with a unique ability to impregnate her music with spirituality and gentleness without losing its edges or depth.

Ptah, The El Daoud is a truly great album, and listeners who surrender themselves to it emerge on the other side of its 46 minutes transformed. From the purifying catharsis of the first moments of the title track to the last moments of “Mantra,” with its disjointed piano dance and passionate ribbons of tenor cast out into the universe, the album resonates with beauty, clarity, and emotion.”

Holy post-Coltrane Impulse spirituality!  Alice Coltrane is new to my turntable, and I admit  being put off by the harp and other-worldly mysticism, but having taken the plunge, I have no reservations, this album is fabulous, perhaps recent encounters with Pharoah Sanders have tempered my sensibilities. The opening march of Ptah is terrific, and it envelopes you as it unwinds. It is musically a very powerful performance, on a whole new wavelength. 

Initially perhaps in the shadow of John, Alice became drawn to Eastern Mysticism, hanging out with the Swamis at the Ashrams, adopting the name Turiyasangitananda, which mystifies me. Why would you change your name to something that is even harder to spell than onomatopoeia, the spelling-bee tie-breaker. The Woodstock generation chanting “Om” to change the world, in search of enlightenment, bliss, harmony, and peace, music as the healing force. Not a bad agenda.

Alice was a frequent collaborator with Pharoah Sanders, sharing a similar transcendental outlook. The second issue of Ptah, The El Daoud added a cover sticker to remind buyers that Pharoah Sanders was a feature of the album, plus in smaller font, “and Joe Henderson”, like an afterthought. It was the presence of Joe Henderson that caught my attention, a surprise name in this setting , although Henderson recorded again with Alice in 1974 on his super-rare Milestone title Elements  (generously subtitled “featuring Alice Coltrane”)

Henderson’s voice, hard tone and stock-phrases, are immediately recognisable, post-bop continuity, contrasting tenor style to Pharoah, who is in his element, delivering his saxophone spiritual exorcism on cue. Ron Carter’s firm hand is on bass. Alice’s harp, and occasionally piano, is set in a powerful two-tenor combination overall, and a very accessible combination of worldly and other-worldly music. After sampling a few You-tubes  I felt I could get into this album, began looking for a decent original vinyl copy.  

Oh dear. I couldn’t find anything enticing. –  this is super rare. What I could find easily enough on vinyl was a grey ” unofficial issue”- an unlicensed copy. Nothing much to lose by giving it a try, around $20, I took the plunge.

Vinyl: VINO – vinyl in name only

Anonymous manufacture, digital transfer to vinyl, cheap cover. 

Collector’s Corner

There is a sad history to this recording. Released originally by Impulse in 1970, (black/red rim label, single logo-box, no ® ), reissues follow the descending quality Impulse label changes through to 1974, and then disappeared, without any further vinyl release. Even the secondary Impulse reissues are now rarely seen.

The only vinyl copy of this recording since the 1974 Impulse green bullseye label is this grey “unofficial release” which has been around since 2015. Discogs has an entry but does not allow selling of unofficial releases, though sold openly in vinyl outlets.

What does it sound like?

Discogs reviews bear repeating, though sincerely-intended comments like “sounds really great”, “sounds amazing” come with a health warning.

Discogs members reviews

15 Oct 2021
 
18 Sept 2021
 

 

 
LJC Verdict:
It sounds QA™  “Quite Acceptable”.  Your ear quickly settles in to the music, and the music is great. I have heard a lot worse actual legitimate vinyl. It is enjoyable but doesn’t compare with real audiophile vinyl. The acid test is to play any RVG authentic original vinyl album immediately after it. Compared with the Van Gelder, you will now recognise the narrow soundstage, woolly, compressed tonal range, and lack of immediacy. .May be  SBM20 cd source gives it an edge, if that was what was used, but it is VINO, Vinyl In Name Only. A turntable can’t extract what was lost in the first place during mastering for cd, nor will it create any analog magic when a digital copy is written back onto vinyl. It’s CD-minus, but it’s available. 

History of the Original Ptah Recording

Coltrane’s early Impulse years were Van Gelder recordings, but Impulse and Van Gelder seemingly parted company in1968, following Bob Thiele’s replacement by Ed Michel. Coltrane’s Dix Hills basement studio was a frequent venue for Coltrane recordings over several years. How it operated has never been documented (not that I have seen) but a New York sound engineer, Wallace Barneke, is credited with this recording, presumably hired for the session. Whether he was also the mastering engineer, unknown. 

 
Unlike a working studio with paying clients and resident engineers, the Coltrane basement studio was effectively a private home recording facility, lacking features like Englewood Cliffs acoustically-reflective high ceiling, screens and baffles It was also unlikely to have commercially essential  fail-safe processes: multiple recorders and back up safety tapes. Mere speculation. No photographs of the studio and its equipment have come to light. The Coltrane Home Restoration Project shows merely bare rooms, normal room height ceilings. The few photos of John and Alice playing together or the Ptah session have no background detail, no shots with microphones, let alone a tape machine. Did the home studio have an EMT plate? If the original recording sounds “boxed in”, it’s because it is missing Rudy’s expertise. This is no reflection on the musicians, but  musicians are not engineers.
 
Fast forward twenty years, in the 1990’s, many master tapes were in the process of being prepared for the world of the evil silver disc. In 1996, Michael Cuscuna  produced the first CD edition of Ptah, the El Daoud, digitally remastered by MCA using 20-Bit Super Mapping:  20SBM.
 
20SBM? 
 
CDs accommodate only a 16 bit signal. Super Bit Mapping used computerised algorithms to squeeze 20-bit digital copy down to 16 bit – a filter “shapes the quantization error into an optimal spectrum as determined by the short-term masking and equi-loudness characteristics of the input signal”   SBM20 claimed to deliver “20-bit sound quality” on a standard 16-bit CD:  In short,  A More or Less Evil Silver Disk, depending which side you are on.
 
The original tapes, whatever their limitations,  likely still existed in 1996, but in practice what was used is unknown. The engineering world of the 90s was mostly recording and mastering music produced by groups of young men playing electric guitars with vocals: tube equipment had long been replaced by solid state, digital manipulation and signal processing ruled.
 
Fast forward a decade, the Universal back-lot fire in June 2008 destroyed many historic and  irreplaceable tape masters. According to the NYT  “Most of John Coltrane’s Impulse masters were lost, as were masters for treasured Impulse releases by Ellington, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Alice Coltrane, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders and other jazz greats.” A special place in hell is reserved for those who failed their duty of custody. 
 
In an a cruel turn of events, the Sai Anantam Ashram, which Alice  Coltrane founded in the early 80’s, was also destroyed by fire, in the California forest fires of 2018. 
 
No vinyl edition with direct lineage to the original tapes has appeared since 1974.  The unofficial vinyl edition has been around for about the last five years. It can only be cd-sourced, or from a lesser digital file format derived from that source. Many times removed from the original tape, transferred onto vinyl, ready for distribution – a vinyl copy of a digital copy.. 
 
The only alternative is resort to Ebay auctions for an original in decent condition. Good luck with that.
 
Popsike : in search of the original Ptah, The Beloved
 
Less than a handful of original copies come to auction each year (caution, other search terms may yield slightly different results)  This is not big game hunters territory. It is rare but not expensive tops at $400, and falls rapidly from there, which is little consolation, as it is not often seen. 
 
The producers of the grey vinyl reissue are at least enabling supply and demand to meet, providing a public service. Pity they couldn’t stretch to replicating the original gatefold (the source of the colourized photos used on the grey copy centre labels)
Our friends in Japan have just been offered, wait for it, another “superior” digital edition, with a technical CD manufacturing improvement.  
It’s great music you wouldn’t want to be without it, whatever your format. Sources say there may be a legitimate vinyl reissue of Ptah  in the next year, inevitably with a digital source. That would be something to look forward to, more than their latest 60th anniversary 4-LP compendium box set. I need to ask – digital sourced? Tell me the Impulse tape catalogue survived the fire? Shoot straight.
Have UMG got their priorities right? Do I need a $25 Impulse cap? Maybe I do
I have reservations about the sound of the post-Van Gelder Impulse catalogue, and maybe the Coltrane Home studio. Anyone with an original copy of Ptah, The El Daoud, care to comment on its sound quality? What am I missing?
LJC

21 thoughts on “Alice Coltrane: Ptah, The El Daoud (1970) Impulse

  1. Thank you again LJC for an enlightening pick. Slightly familiar with Alice Coltrane’s work & this just bolsters the original appreciation I have for it.
    What infuriates me, & it cant be helped, is the truly evil carelessness & neglect that UMG (I expectorate after typing that) exhibited as custodians of the IRREPLACEABLE TWENTIETH CENTURY RECORDINGS that burned & were destroyed, & lost forever.
    It was the equivalent of nuclear incineration of music history. This was akin to destruction supposedly of the library in ancient Alexandria.
    Thanks to the evil corporate lords, most people have no idea of what happened. It wasnt until the New York Times wrote a huge article was it brought to the attention of some.
    The UMG vermin denied it up & down until a lawsuit was brought by many recording artists, their families or estates if deceased. A court ruled, with no conscious, that UMG basically had the right to neglect the storage of the master tapes & inadvertently allow their subsequent destruction.
    People have discarded, by the millions, records & books assuming “everything is on the internet” or there have to be actual other copies somewhere else. The truth is that is NOT the case.

  2. I have both an original 1st pressing and the unofficial release version on vinyl. Both sound good but the unofficial release definitely sounds CD-ish. Though my original pressing is in near mint condition, the quality of the ABC Implulse! label releases are very hit and miss. Many pressings of the this era suffer from slightly noisy sound. Not sure if it’s a recycled vinyl thing or an issue in pressing process.

    • To answer your original question; you’re not missing much. Your pirate copy of Ptah is decent. The original pressing is decent but it is not like the difference between a Lex Blue Note and a blue label 70’s reissue. I am not cheap when it comes to records and have no problem spending $500 or more on something I want, and that is how much a true near mint example of Ptah costs. Is it worth it, I’m leaning towards “no” for this one. The material is great, the 1970 1st press, meh.

      • My thoughts exactly. I’ve had two true first pressings in VG++/NM so far and both have/had problems in terms of surface noise that is not overpowering, but noticeable and clearly related to the pressing quality. Later pressings may have been pressed on better wax.

      • I have an original promo in NM condition. After US cleaning if find it plays perfectly. Dead silent with great sound. They are out there but its an expensive game of Whack-a-mole. The nice thing about ebay is its easy to return overgraded copies.

  3. There is a great cover of Ptah on the recently reissued Salah Ragab Egyptian Jazz Album retitled as The Crossing. When i was a kid, about 16 in the mid-eighties, my mum worked for a guy who had a few jazz records and i remember he had this and Fire Music but wouldnt part with either.

  4. Well, you’ve surprised us with this one Andy: grey market VINO and Alice Coltrane – not your usual territory. Anyway, I said in my earlier comment that I’d come back with some additional thoughts…

    I finally pulled my OG copy from the shelf for a listen through yesterday (having first calibrated by listening to a late-1960s mono RVG Blue Note/Liberty pressing that I thought would be a fair contemporary comparison). My general feeling is that the Impulse Ptah fairs pretty well. The individual instruments are cleanly presented (especially Ron Carter’s bass and Ben Riley’s drum kit) though the saxophones are perhaps a little thin at times. Most of the time you can choose to follow individual musicians with ease but things do get confused at various climaxes where everybody is going for it together. Overall, this pressing is a really enjoyable listen both in musical and audio terms.

    I gotta say in closing that Turiya & Ramakrishna is a lovely, lovely thing. It was the tune that first made me seek out a copy of this record. Before hearing it, I have to confess to having had something of an unfair blind spot about Alice Coltrane which I think must have had a lot to do with my pre-conceptions of her as a harpist. The reality is that she’s a fine pianist and I was late to the party. I’m glad I put that right when I acquired Ptah – especially since I snagged it as part of an Impulse spiritual jazz triple whammy along with her Journey In Satchidananda and the Pharoah’s Jewels Of Thought at the same time.

  5. As a follow up I was intrigued by the Terry Gibbs comment in the El Daoud liner notes that on the Jewish album Alice— ” she ran away with the whole session ” so I went hunting on you tube for the album. He was right , Alice is outstanding and showing big strides away from the Bud Powell influence and more the style on El Daoud..( I admit I skipped to the piano solos as the rest of the album made me want to run screaming from the room.) While I was donating my ears to Jazz I also tried the Hootenanny piano solos , much more in the Bud Powell mode but otherwise the album was another painful experience.. The things you do for love ( of jazz).

  6. I have the original vinyl release and I agree with Tobias , you can feel you are boxed in a room with the sound. The music obviously is great so it does not effect the listening experience .In the liner notes Terry Gibbs talks about having Alice in his group for a year ( around 1963) . She appeared on 3 albums with him in that time ,all under different sir names. .Alice Hagood (first husbands name) on “plays Jewish Melodies in Jazztime( Mercury), Alice Mcleod on Hootenanny my way ( Time)and Alice McLoud on El Nutto.( Limelight). I only have El Nutto which is a swinging album with some great solos by Alice ,still strongly influenced by Bud Powell .( I never chased the other titles for obvious reasons but maybe that was a mistake,, has anyone heard them ?) If anybody wants to see Alice in pre- Coltrane mode a couple of clips can be found from the Blue Note Paris in 1960. A trio performance on Facebook and a quintet performance with lucky Thompson and Kenny Clarke on You Tube. Well worth checking out.

    • Kenny “Pancho” Hagood is the vocalist on “Darn That Dream” from Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool sessions. He also worked with Dizzy Gillespie’s band.

    • Yes I have a CD of Plays Jewish Melodies, if you like the point at which Ashkenazi and Eastern European folk music meet American classical then I would recommend it although I recall nothing about the pianist.

  7. Well, you’ve done it again: introduced me to something that I must have. Can’t afford the original vinyl, but just ordered a copy on “evil silver disc.” Thanks for doing what you do. Best, ~Marc

    *Marc Beaudin* author of *Life List: Poems. *”Exquisite and full of life like the birds themselves” *–* *Terry Tempest Williams * and *Vagabond Song*. “A jazzy, freewheeling, rollicking road trip into the beating heart of the Eternal Now.”*–Montana Quarterly*

    On Fri, Nov 19, 2021 at 1:58 AM LondonJazzCollector wrote:

    > LondonJazzCollector posted: “Warning! LJC hits rock-bottom with an > “unofficial release”, from digital sources. Exceptional circumstances, it’s > a Vinyl Emergency, proceed with caution. Selection 1 – the opening: Ptah, > The El Daoud (Alice Coltrane) . . . Selection 2 – the cl” >

  8. the sticker history is not so straightforward, just FYI. my original copy does not have it, yet a prior second press did.

      • My original copy of PTAH has the black with red ring label, single box with no R, LW in the dead wax but, like Gregory’s, no Sanders/Henderson sticker on the cover. Many albums, including some Impulse records, had stickers on the clear outside wrapper, but I don’t think PTAH did – being OCD, I probably would have saved such a label with the album.

        With respect to the sound quality of PTAH, which was recorded in 1970: first, to orient my ear, I re-listened to snippets of a variety of my original Impulse releases recorded around the same time. It seemed to me that PTAH, despite being recorded in the Coltrane home studio, was about equal in quality to many of the other non-Van Gelder Impulse releases of the time: Sanders’ KARMA or JEWELS OF THOUGHT, Haden’s LIBERATION MUSIC ORCHESTRA, Shepp’s ATTICA BLUES. However, comparing it to, say, Shepp’s 1971 THINGS HAVE GOT TO CHANGE, which WAS recorded at Van Gelder’s New Jersey studio, reveals some differences, including a (for me) indefinable “presence” and clear definition of individual voices. All of this is fraught with subjectivity and dependent on one’s personal taste and sound system and only you can be the judge. I hesitate to dissect the finer points of sound “quality.” All of these albums have good music on them.

        PTAH is a very fine album that has much to recommend it. As I previously wrote: “…Alice McLeod was trained in classical music and studied “jazz” with Bud Powell. With this in mind I re-listened to “Ptah the El-Daouad” (Impulse AS-9196) followed by some Bud Powell (“The Amazing Bud Powell Vol 1” Blue Note BST 81503) and was surprised at the similarities, such as in her solo on the title track, but especially by the lovely trio performance with Ron Carter and Ben Riley on “Turiya and Ramakrishna.” The rapid, long multi-note lines have a crystalline brilliance that made me think of a snow storm in sunlight —or the “diamond dust” that occasionally occurs in the air at very low temperatures in the Colorado Rocky Mountains…..”

  9. Hi LJC! I have the original bought in Brussels on a business trip many years ago. I also have the 90’s CD. The 1970 original vinyl has a cool shimmer about it, but it’s not an audiophile sounding record, a bit boxed in. Unlike many modern reissues you can really hear the room, you hear the sound of the basement on this. Hope this helps 🙂

  10. I have the CD, 96 issue, sounds decent enough for $3 at the flea market. Wish I would have bought a VG+ LP copy back when they were still $80

  11. Unofficial recording or otherwise presented here, doesn’t really matter. The truth is, Ptah the El Daoud is a marvel in every sense imaginable and easily one of the top-20 most important and most beautifully recorded and mastered sessions in the history of Jazz. In fact, I would not hesitate for a nanosecond to place it in the same category and at the same level as her – much more famous husband’s – masterwork: A Love Supreme. Both technically impeccable, emotionally gratifying and spiritually sublime, Ptah is a joy to play over and over again. . Complements on a wonderful choice, Andrew!.

    • Although new to this record I have to say I wholeheartedly agree with every word you say. I feel much the same way as with Basra; emotionally charged music for the soul.

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