on 24 December 2004
Ferocious and luminously beautiful free improvised duets from 1967 with Rashied Ali, swinging like crazy and actually rather acessable. Unforced and wide open, the absence of any third parties to clog the gears gives the music total freedom to breathe and swell, saxophonist Coltrane an effortless stream of soul resonanting shapes and transitions and Ali a blizzard of crashing drums. An amazing recording, with the instrument tones seamlessly stinging and billowy and the recording studio reverberating like a church.
By the time of the recordings of these pieces in 1967 John Coltrane was travelling farther and father out into the musical hinterland of free jazz. This set of recordings with drummer Rashid Ali is about as far as you can get. The music here is wild and powerful and at times violent as Ali and Coltrane at times seem to battle for the space in the music.
This is improvisation of the first order. Coltrane's playing squawks, honks, runs, and stutters its way around the clattering cachophony of Ali's frenetic drumming. Easy listening it isn't. It does seem to be a statement and it is fascinating to wonder where Coltrane would have gone next with his music beacuase listening to this you sometimes conclude that this was something of a final statement. If John Coltrane really was on some kind of musical journey it does seem, listening to this, that perhaps he had arrived.
This is undoubtedly very much music of its time, and likewise not music for all occasions. A product of late '60s moves (when I say 'cosmic flares' I'm not alluding to the fashionable loon-pants of the era!) towards 'free jazz', it nonetheless remains both structured enough, and varied enough in mood and approach, for me to enjoy it a lot, where the squalls of say Peter Brotzman's Machine Gun, recorded only a year later, I find simply confrontationally abrasive.
Allmusic.com describe Interstellar Space as 'Rousing if somewhat inaccessible music', which is, I think, pretty fair. Originally recorded in, I believe, 1967, it wasn't released at all until 1974, and then only in incomplete form. Now we can enjoy Leo and Jupiter Variation, in addition to Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. Leo has something approaching a 'head' arrangement, and several cuts find Coltrane jingling some bells in the intros and outros. But other than that, these are just long, fairly free improvised duets between Coltrane and drummer Rashied Ali, who uses sticks on all cuts save when he picks up brushes on Venus.
Enough has been said about Coltrane, so, as a drummer, my props go to Rashied Ali, who's playing is staggering: without Ali backing 'Trane, this would be nigh-on unlistenable for me. Either element on it's own would, whilst perhaps fascinating for a little while, ultimately seem too one dimensional, at least for me. But together... Both players complement each other in a way that (I feel) much free jazz fails to observe; there's a real sense of sympathetic interplay and connection - i.e. listening - as opposed to simply making noise at the same time. And this especially true of Ali, as he supports 'Trane on his cosmic flights.
Having said this, this is intense all the way through, and skipping through the tracks it all sounds much of a muchness. But if you're prepared to immerse yourself in the sound-world they create, it can be stupendous. Ali's drumming style around this time remains both ground-breaking, and a benchmark to measure oneself against, in terms of a kaleidoscopic balance of explosive energy and tightly controlled finesse. It's a style I love and occasionally try to emulate, or at least learn from, remaining a continual and fascinating challenge, even after all these years have elapsed.
Recorded in 1967 but not released until 1974, these duets between John Coltrane and drummer Rashied Ali may actually be the most accessible recordings that the 'free' Coltrane ever made. The longest piece runs less than twelve minutes, so there are no half-hour endurance tests. The absence of other melody or harmony instruments means that the listener can hear Coltrane's extraordinary virtuosity and sense his passionate involvement without distraction. The much-maligned Rashied Ali provides a continuous foundation and commentary that is fascinating in its own right and as valid in its way as the more metrical playing of Elvin Jones.
A cursory listen might suggest that the six pieces here are essentially variations on a theme, but in fact they all have their own characters. I came to this album something of a skeptic about late Coltrane, and have found myself listening to this repeatedly. Recommended for anybody who is prepared to listen with an open mind.
Recorded in 1967 this album still sounds revolutionary and as revelatory as today nearly 50 years after its conception and release. It is a major work, but it is in no way compromised by any commercial considerations. ‘Interstellar Space’ finds Coltrane paradoxically at his most free and thoughtful yet at his most stripped down, with just himself and drummer Rashied Ali in on the session. The beauty (and the curse to less enamoured fans) of the album is that it offers the listener very little conventional ideas to hang on to when listening: structure, regular rhythm, chordal underpinnings are largely absent from this music. So what is left? Well to supporters of this album (of which there are many), a lot. First of all there is a sense of exploration, interaction and drive. From the first note to the last, we are engaged in a fervent seeking of some sort of musical truth. It sounds impassioned and highly evolved, dense, sometimes impenetrable but there is beauty and a line of thought here, however removed it might be from the mainstream. The clichés attached to jazz have been thrown away, and what is left is Coltrane trying to communicate as many ideas and emotions as he can, but needing to create a new language, exploiting all the technical potential of his instrument to do so.
I have come to Coltrane via ‘Kind Of Blue’ and the likes of ‘Blue Train’, so ‘Interstellar Space’ represents a challenge. But given the depth and intensity of the playing on this album, it’s a worthwhile challenge. Recommended to hard core Coltrane lovers. My advice: check the sound samples before buying!
ps: interesting sleevenotes and great recorded sound.
on 12 May 2014
This was not as "difficult" as I'd expected considering its reputation. For such a spare line up, Sax & Percussion, it is a very full sound and Coltrane's musicality is not lost in its avant garde approach. I admit to having a taste for late Coltrane but this is nothing like as in your face as Ascension. Approach it with an open mind but if you think the master lost his way after A love Supreme this is not for you.
on 17 April 2012
It is difficult to imagine a listener who is new to avant-garde jazz or music in general, upon listening to this album, not saying to themselves 'this isn't music, it's just noise'. I feel I should say this at the beginning of my reviewer to warn anyone who is expecting the John Coltrane of 'Love Supreme' which is easy on the ear.
With this said, I think this album is fantastic, a great example of the merits of free jazz, and good example of simplicity winning in the face of complexity.
The simplicity comes from the fact that the whole album is played by a band of just two; Coltrane on sax and a drummer. One might imagine Coltrane choosing to represent the planets with a huge ensemble but, no, he opts for something entirely in the opposite direction.
The music itself is comprised mainly of long tracks with the drums playing fast solo-like licks with no particular meter or pulse over which the sax thrashes away with rapid arpeggios and overblown squeaks and growls. It's as simple as that - and the effect is overpowering.
If you like avant-garde music or jazz, you should get this album and add it to your collection as soon as possible. If you like your jazz like Miles Davis' 'Kind of Blue', then prepare to be initially disappointed but, with perseverance and an open mind, richly rewarded.
on 14 December 2003
Coltranes last album, to my knowledge. One thing for sure there is a progression in Coltranes music and it comes from his spiritual journey that he willingly shares. When "I" listen and feel this album I am connected to spirituality and feel the love of God, which I guess was Coltranes experience when recording. Not an album that I listen to everyday, it's a good "top up" and brings me back to a kind of inner peace. Musically it's amazing, truth is there is one sax player and a drummer making layers and layers of inspired sound a totally intimate experience where everything is revealed warts and all.