John Coltrane’s “Interstellar Space”

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Interstellar Space

星間空間

Feb. 22, 1967, Impulse 314 543 415-2

  1. Mars                                      10:43
  2. Venus                                     8:36
  3. Jupiter                                    5:25
  4. Saturn                                    11:43
  5. Leo (bonus)                            10:56
  6. Jupiter Variation (bonus)        6:43

This recording of saxophone/drum duets by John Coltrane and Rashied Ali, according to Francis Davis’ liner notes for the reissue, ranks with the finest work from any of Coltrane’s various periods due to its consummate musicianship, the clarity of the logic utilized in improvising by both Coltrane and Ali, and the ardency of the passion exhibited by each musician. It is also unique in Coltrane’s output as it is his one and only duet album, though Coltrane did create long duet “moments” in his other works when the piano and bass dropped out of a song and Elvin Jones or Philly Joe Jones (with the Miles Davis group) would sustain the rhythm behind Coltrane’s soloing, e.g. Oleo on the Miles Davis album Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet. It is also unique in that it doesn’t build up to a climax like many or most recordings of so-called “energy” music, starting at low dynamic level and moving to high energy, ecstatic honking and screaming sounds. On this particular recording, Coltrane enters immediately with the kind of intense energy one might expect from another artist already some 10 to 20 minutes into such an engaging performance. Thus, though there are many other excellent saxophone/drum duet recordings available such as saxophonist Dewey Redman’s duets with Ed Blackwell (Live at Wilisau) and John Surman’s duets with Jack DeJohnette (Invisible Nature), this particular recording would seem to be the gold standard, and is usually found in the record or CD collections of a wide variety of jazz and non-idiomatic improvisers, making it not only a classic free improvisation album, but arguably a classic of improvised music in general.

An important fact to note about John Coltrane’s contribution to free improvisation is his involvement with the music at a time when the music was being hotly debated and what would be its classic albums recorded. With the recording of his album Ascension, Coltrane revealed his interest in both free-form structure and the ideas of upcoming free musicians of the day including Pharaoh Sanders, Archie Shepp, and John Tchicai. With Coltrane joining this group stylistically and ideologically, free improvisation now had both the support and approval of an established artist conferred on a group of socially underprivileged young musicians on the New York scene; men and women who were making permanent history through this most powerfully transient sound art.

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