Astral Traveling: The Ecstasy of Spiritual Jazz

When it comes to excavating history in the traditionally under-reported world of avant-garde music, Andy Beta is one of America’s most probing critics. As part of the Pitchfork Essentials series, he put together “Astral Traveling,” a hybrid sociocultural survey and annotated playlist charting the evolution of spiritual jazz in the ’60s and ’70s. Beta—who also has logged considerable time as a deejay—pulls off what is a tricky balancing act. Through words, he successfully weaves selections from John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, Sonny Sharrock, et al., into a cogent historical narrative. At the same time, he ensures that his playlist—as a listening experience in its own right—heaves, swells, and testifies with a sense ecstatic ritual that honors spiritual jazz’s sacred ethos. That’s elegant curation.