John Coltrane – Interstellar Space [Review]





Album information:

Released by Impulse/ABC Records in 1974

Produced by John Coltrane

Recorded February 22, 1967, by Rudy Van Gelder in Englewood Cliffs, NJ

Original 1974 compatible stereo/quadrophonic pressing


A couple of months before his death in 1967, John Coltrane went into the studio with drummer Rashied Ali to record some of the most free recordings he’s ever made, the freest of free jazz. Perhaps this freeness is due to the absence of other tonal instruments, leaving Coltrane untethered to harmony and 100% free to play whatever raw, unhindered creativity flows through him.

The duet wastes no time tapping into this rawness by opening with the most chaotic track on the entire album, a total palate cleanser that rids the listener of any prior expectations and prepares them for what’s to come. “Mars” is a perfect example of why Coltrane considers Ali to be such a “multi-directional” drummer. His drumming has so many simultaneous rhythmic and atmospherical layers that Coltrane is free to follow them in any multitude of directions at any given moment, leaving the music unpredictable yet cohesive; each moment follows the last seamlessly. Although these tracks were named posthumously by Alice Coltrane, the subtitle “Battlefield of the Cosmic Giants” is still a perfect description of the duo’s furious interactions throughout the first half of the track. After minutes of Coltrane’s unabated riffing weaving in and out of the pummeling drums, the saxophone drops out entirely and Coltrane resorts to playing bells, leaving Ali in the spotlight to take his intensity to a new level for the remainder of the track. It’s at moment like these that you wonder whether Ali has twice the amount of limbs as a normal person. His complete liberation from time signatures and linear drum patterns make it clear where modern noise drummers like Zach Hill (Hella, Death Grips) and Brian Chippendale (Lightning Bolt, Black Pus) draw their inspiration.

After the overwhelming ferocity of the first track, “Venus” comes in sounding comparatively beautiful and, dare I say, melodic. That is not to say the duo are taking it easy for this track, their quiet intensity is no less free and powerful than their heaviest riffing. Using brushes only encourages Rashied Ali to push his limits even further, except instead of volume he focuses on the power of subtlety. It is a rare feat for a drummer to be able to play something so busy and all over the place while retaining such a subdued atmosphere. This atmosphere sets the perfect stage for Coltrane’s gorgeous, flowing melodies to slowly mutate and gain intensity throughout the track. One of his most impressive qualities is the way he pushes the limits of his instrument by experimenting with timbres and overblowing techniques; in the end the sounds he makes are just as important of a creative outlet as the notes he plays.

Second side opener, “Jupiter”, brings back some of the loud intensity of the first track, except with much more focus. Here, Ali’s driving drums and Coltrane’s fluttering riffs seem to push each other forward to a singular destination instead of combatting each other. This track contains some Coltrane’s most impressive, concentrated playing ever, proving that just because someone plays “free” does not mean that it is random or lacking direction. The only factor that makes playing truly “free” is that it is unfiltered by conscious thought; But even without conscious thought, Coltrane’s playing is still informed by his mastery of jazz, muscle memory from years of experience, and the raw creativity of the universe that he taps into.

Closing track “Saturn” begins with Rashied Ali soloing and setting up a groove in his own nonlinear way. After a few minutes, Coltrane comes in so in-sync with the groove that it is obvious he gave Ali’s solo his undivided attention and is making his best effort to create unity with the drums. Throughout the song, the listener can hear the impressive way in which these two are able to communicate and listen to each other without any hesitation or confusion, as if they were speaking a language only known to them.

Perhaps that is what these recordings were meant to be, just Rashied and John jamming and bonding together with no intent of it becoming an album. After all, this album was released 7 years after Coltrane’s death and there is no evidence that he intended on releasing it at all. Nonetheless this album is a rare, rewarding glimpse at what happens when two musicians are able to operate on the same musical and spiritual wavelengths.

This album is HIGHLY recommended to free jazz fans, as well as any fans of modern noise/math rock duos (Hella, Lightning Bolt, etc) since it sets such a strong precedent to the liberating power of having musical interactions not anchored down by harmonic accountability.


Side One

1. Mars (Fourth from the Sun: Battlefield of the Cosmic Giants) – 10:41

2. Venus (Second from the Sun: Love) – 8:17

Side Two

1. Jupiter (Fifth from the Sun; Supreme Wisdom) – 5:21

2. Saturn (Sixth from the Sun: Joy) – 11:35

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