1967: John Coltrane - Interstellar Space

By the year of his death in 1967, John Coltrane had already exhausted a variety of jazz idioms, though not for a sense of accomplishment. His entire musical career thrived on its fluid, adaptive approach, so it's no wonder that many late-period albums -- Ascension, Meditations, Om, etc -- were not only increasingly free, but more conceptually complex. Coltrane adapted well to the pulse of the time, and his later music mirrored his spiritual state of mind, one that was developed to the point of inextricability. Although the musical cacophony might signify otherwise, his vision was particularly lucid during this period.

But Coltrane's musical trajectory is not easily predictable. Interstellar Space -- a fierce free-jazz rumination in four movements -- was among his last studio sessions, yet a week prior he recorded Stellar Regions, one of his more accessible, melodic albums of the time. What these two albums show aren't necessarily contrasting mindframes, but Coltrane's dexterity, range, and pliability. He wasn't moving from style to style as if to conquer each one; the styles themselves were what made him move. And on Interstellar Space, it felt like he was moving to reconcile free-jazz with spiritual truth.

Each of the album's tracks follows a similar structure, with Coltrane sounding bells while drummer Rashied Ali, the sole other performer, lets his drumsticks dance. Coltrane then introduces a melody, frequently shifting, extending, and modulating until it becomes more swirling impressionism than blues-influenced realism. "Venus," for example, is stretched to its tonal limits, with Coltrane getting downright throaty around the 4-minute mark, resembling younger contemporary Albert Ayler (whose spiritual free-jazz had a tremendous influence on Coltrane's sound during this period). He's not intoning on scales, he's screaming in the upper registers. Around 7:10, he stops for breath during a fast-paced ornamentation, only to continue its statement midway through. It's almost as exhausting to listen to as it must've been for Coltrane to play.

Ali, meanwhile, matches Coltrane's intensity with cymbal-heavy flourishes and tumbling snare-tom aggression. He's relentless on his set, sounding each drum and cymbal with equal confidence. Although the emotional limitations of the drum sound restrict his stories from reaching the level of Coltrane's commanding declarations, it's no less important to Interstellar Space's aesthetic. On "Saturn," Ali simply owns his instrument during a two-and-a-half-minute introduction, easing us into Coltrane's final, most rhythmic assertion of the album. From there, the two rip through a movement so raw, so visceral, so complementary that their respective approaches become that much clearer when sound together.

Although it may not have the significance of A Love Supreme and Giant Steps, Interstellar Space better captures what Coltrane had learned throughout the years, especially in terms of style (overtones, multiphonics, the altissimo register) and spiritual philosophy. It's an album indicative of growth over transition, the album I go to when I want to be challenged. Many might characterize his later style of playing as "abstract," but that would only serve to undermine his intent. Coltrane believed in the essentialism of musical notes, that they had universal meaning and that the musician's job was to understand and employ them. He was obviously trying to communicate something deep on this album. And when that effort comes with as much spirituality and philosophy that Coltrane brought to the jazz vernacular, you can't help but get caught up in the romanticism.

DeLorean

There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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